Local News

Bill Leslie: The history of the Raleigh Christmas Parade

Posted November 21, 2019 11:55 a.m. EST
Updated November 23, 2019 10:42 a.m. EST

— The first Raleigh Christmas Parade was held in 1939 as the country was finally rebounding from the Great Depression.

The United States’ involvement in World War II prompted organizers to put the parade on hold for several years, but it returned in grand fashion in 1945, marking the start of a new period of prosperity.

By the 1950s the parade had become a family tradition for many North Carolina residents.

Crowds continued to grow and people of all ages lined the streets as parade entries became bigger, brighter and more creative.

The 1970s brought mini-skirts and cheerleaders to the forefront. Disco was in, and big hair and marching bands dominated the scene.

WRAL-TV broadcast its first Christmas parade in 1974 in black and white.

Fred Taylor, a WRAL reporter who died in 2014, handled commentary on the 1978 parade.

Sunshine dominated the 1984 parade with wide–eyed children watching Santa roll by under a spotless sky.

“Bigger and better” was the slogan in 1985, with marching majorettes, beautiful floats and sirens for Santa Claus.

Parade coverage and crowds continued to grow into the 1990s.

WRAL made broadcasting history with high definition coverage of the parade in the new century.

Popular stars appeared as grand marshals, including the world’s fastest man, Justin Gatlin, in 2004, and WRAL legends Charlie Gaddy, Bob DeBardelaben and Bobbi Battista in 2006.

And in 2011, with one of the biggest crowds ever at 80,000, American Idol winner Scotty McCreery appeared.

Another popular grand marshal was Ira David Wood as Ebenezer Scrooge in 2014. That was the same year big balloons returned to the parade after a three-year helium shortage.

There have been many great memories over 75 years, with the bands, the kids, the floats and the surprises, including marriage proposals.

While many of the WRAL-TV team have had the honor of co-hosting the parade over the years, Santa has been the biggest star of the show on Fayetteville Street.

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