Christmas Comes Early: The History of Raleigh’s Parade Date

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The holiday music has already begun in some stores. Each year consumers grumble about the most wonderful time of the year and when it should actually begin.

While we can’t control the time stores start decorating, one question we often hear is about the Raleigh Christmas parade, which takes place this Saturday.

Many of the country’s biggest parades occur on Thanksgiving Day, while smaller city organizers seem content to choose a date after Thanksgiving’s “launch” of the holiday season. For example, Durham’s parade is Dec. 3 and Chapel Hill will celebrate Dec. 10. In Peoria, Ill., a city often used as a barometer for restaurants and theatre productions, the annual Santa Parade takes place the day after Thanksgiving.

So why does Raleigh’s parade take place before?

For the answer, we spoke with Jennifer Bradshaw Martin, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association.

It turns out the 67-year-old parade has always taken place the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

“It was originally started by the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association (originally called the Raleigh Merchants Bureau) as a way for the downtown business owners to officially kick off the Christmas shopping season,” Bradshaw Martin said.

“The Merchants Bureau was made up of all small business owners and they would organize the community event the weekend before Thanksgiving.  This was the official kick-off to holiday shopping in Raleigh rather than the traditional Black Friday.  So ever since, the parade is always the Saturday before Thanksgiving,” she said.

Bradshaw Martin said she often receives questions about the date, but it’s not something likely to change.

“It’s been a tradition and we are not planning on changing it.  Just like sports teams and alma matters have tradition—this is our tradition,” she said. “The parade is still organized by volunteers who are small business owners.

This year’s parade features 50 floats, including two of the largest balloons in parade history: a 50-foot and 55-foot balloon. One is The Nutcracker and the other is Animal from the Muppets.

The parade will also feature a crane with a Christmas tree, the World’s Largest Gummy Bear and a roller skate car.

Fayetteville Street offers some of the best views, but get there early. Some people are out there as early as 7 a.m. to save their seats for the 9:40 event. Learn more about the parade at

One thought on “Christmas Comes Early: The History of Raleigh’s Parade Date

  1. This is why in 17 years of living in this city, I have NEVER been to the Christmas parade. I just cannot stand seeing xmas decorations or hearing holiday music before Thanksgiving. It just grates on my nerves how early some people…particularly the retail sector…is shoving Christmas earlier and earlier every year.

    Yet I love our St. Patrick’s parade…it falls on or slightly before the holiday. No big gap there. 🙂