Downtown Christmas Parade to kick off holiday season

by Tim Froberg

No one likes turning 50, but organizers of the Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade might see it a different way. They couldn’t be happier to get the annual parade back on the streets of downtown Appleton for its 50th anniversary following a one-year hiatus due to the global pandemic.

The largest nighttime parade in the Midwest makes a much-anticipated return on Tuesday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m.  

The beloved parade is a huge event filled with marching bands and holiday-themed floats. It draws roughly 80,000 spectators to College Avenue. Thousands more watch it on television with WFRV-TV (CBS) Channel 5 providing the broadcast.

“Our Christmas parade is probably our most attended parade and it’s something people really look forward to,” said Corey Otis, Appleton Parade Committee chairperson. “It kicks off the holiday season. We’re thrilled to have the marching bands, bright, beautiful floats, jolly old elves, and the big guy back in downtown Appleton.”

A year ago, the parade committee improvised with a five-nights-of-Santa-Claus theme replacing the cancelled parade.

“That was a nice one-year fix, but it’s great to get back to tradition with our parade,” Otis said. “We were able to pull off our Flag Day parade and we’re pumped about the Christmas parade.”

The parade starts at the corner of State Street and College Avenue and heads east down College to Drew Street. This year’s parade theme is “Superhero Christmas.” It will not only feature familiar, fictitious, costumed superheroes, but real people who fill that role such as first responders and front-line healthcare workers.

“When the idea first came up, I was thinking, ‘OK, there will be Spiderman, Superman – that kind of thing,” Otis said. “But after what we went through last year, we realized there really are a lot of people in our community who are superheroes. It’s a great theme because it leaves a lot to interpretation.”

Although another major downtown event, Appleton’s Octoberfest, was cancelled in September primarily due to a lack of volunteers, Otis is confident the parade will go on.

“That was an entirely different animal, compared to us,” Otis said. “We’re a much smaller crew. We rely heavily on the Appleton Police Department, the Department of Public Works, and the firefighters. We feel good about having the parade. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

Otis said the parade committee would follow updated CDC and city health department recommendations, but no mask mandates were planned.

“We learned a lot of lessons from last year,” Otis said. “The vaccinations were a game-changer, and the fact that we’re an outdoor event definitely helps us.”

Erin Davisson, longtime new anchor at WFRV-TV, will serve as parade marshal. Davisson retired in 2020 after 37 years in broadcasting, including 32 years  at Channel 5.

The parade started in 1971 and has been a fixture in downtown Appleton. Otis’s father, Greg, was also a previous parade committee chair, serving in that position for more than 30 years.

“It’s definitely part of the holiday tradition in the Fox Cities,” Otis said. “Being the largest nighttime parade in the state gives us a lot of attention and WFRV-TV has been great in televising us all these years. People love the marching bands and the bright lights. It’s pretty awesome to see joy in kids’ faces, especially when they see the big guy (Santa Claus) at the end.”