Santa Parade Needs a Makeover

Today it smelled like cold, and I found myself thinking about the upcoming holiday season. I recalled recently reading a piece in the Royal City Record that the folks at the Hyack Festival Association are proposing to change up the Santa Claus Parade of Lights to a event that focuses on Hyack Square and a giant Christmas tree, with some sort of light display along the wall of the Salvation Army.

Thank goodness, I say. Why did this take so long?

Just look at how happy they all are!
Christmas Parade Past – Photo by Dennis Sylvester Hurd

The three times I have attended the Parade of Lights since my son was born, I have had to leave early when he got fussy or bored or cold, and the watery hot chocolate isn’t enough to keep him occupied. We see the same floats and groups march on by for more than an hour that we see in the (much warmer) Hyack Parade in May. The one time we were there long enough to move to Hyack Square, we clustered around to watch the spectacularly miniature tree get lit while a number of politicians talked about how the Christmas spirit was alive and well (which it is – I’m not being a Grinch here). There were no bleachers, no seating, not even organized areas to stand – no way for the short folks such as myself or my child to even see what was going on as we stood in the scrum of people with hardly a way to even get out of the crowd mid way through. My son didn’t care one tiny bit for the speechifying and was bored bored bored. We left, and went home and watched Miracle on 34th Street, drank eggnog, and ate mandarin oranges.

A number of the councillors are quoted in the Record’s article as being concerned about the change, and while they don’t necessarily oppose it, they mostly seem underwhelmed and even somewhat resistant to the idea. All of their comments centre around their own opinions of the parade. One comments that “he always liked the parade”, and cites concern that it won’t attract families if it is presented in another format. Another says “Personally, I like the parade,” and worries that a transition to another format will be too quick. I’m not trying to single out anyone out, here, but only one of our current councillors is currently raising a young family in our city.

In the article, Mayor Wright is quoted as saying “Change does not come easily to anybody. We welcome your new ideas. We have to work into them.” His comment is absolutely spot on. The Santa Claus Parade of Lights in its current format is  boring and outdated, and while I want to support the parade and the many community groups that volunteer their time and effort, I can only placate my son for so long while we passively watch it stream by. I wonder how many people continue to come to the parade year after year to watch the same thing over and over because there is no other free community holiday festival?

Dear Hyack Festival Association,

You have my wholehearted support to change the Parade into something that actually feels like a holiday celebration in the city. You can’t do it soon enough.



20 Replies to “Santa Parade Needs a Makeover”

  1. Agreed! At least the Hyack Parade is during the summer and it's easy to organize something with other parents/kids. I actually don't see the need for New Westminster to have two parades in one year. We have a pretty good number of community events in this town; if anything they seem watered down and sort of slapped together.
    That said, why not look at other ideas for a Christmas event: winter market; craft stalls; event tent for kids to decorate gingerbread, make decorations, entertainers, etc.; food vendors.
    Perhaps we can create an event which merchants along Royale can get in on the action: sells some warm goodies, gifts, etc.
    There just is not enough going on with the current parade to make me want to go down and watch.

    1. Good points Matt. Not sure which businesses you refer to on Royal, Would love to see merchants on Columbia participate in Christmas sales, coffee on the street, cookie sales, activities for kids. The parade is a good opener to a good Winter Event. But should carry on with more activities. Lets light Hyack Square with a huge tree. (The square with its silly metal pretense of a tree is as ridiculous as a stage with no roof, more poor planning and $'s wasted) The BIA, Hyack and the City as well as business promo should all be involved. in planning.

    2. I am not sure who you were referring to with your comments, but I can guarantee that Hyack does not 'slap' together events. If you had a chance to attend Uptown Live, Concerts on the Quay or RiverFest, I think you will agree those events were well-planned, well-executed and met the needs of a dynamic, ever-changing, multicultural community.
      Our assessment of the Christmas Parade of Lights is consistent with our desire to produce vibrant, high energy events.

  2. I agree with your observations. Events need to stay relevant and meet the expectations of the audience that they intend to attract. Instead of a parade that, while well intended, is a bit disappointing to most, it would be a much better idea to concentrate all the time and efforts that is invested here into an event that has more appeal.
    On a similar topic, we are installing a large, 32 foot tall, illuminated Christmas tree on the roof of the Blenz Coffee building at 6th Street and 6th Avenue. It is planned to go up in mid November. Hopefully that will get everyone in the spirit!

    1. Good the hear about your tree Bart. When I was Pres of Moody Park Residents Association we used to celebrate the lighting of the tree with Hot drinks etc; Let me know if you need a hand to make it an event to attract huge numbers. With all the Coffee shops in the vicinity as well as other merchants, half the city will show up for the festivities and to watch it light up.

  3. Hi Jen,

    My son and I moved to New West last year and attended the Christmas parade and did not enjoy it as it was cold, he was bored and fussy and it seemed mainly about politicians being seen. I was quite disappointed. We both really enjoyed the summer parade this past May so yes, we do like parades. I know there is a winter market at the Quay 2 Saturdays a month from Nov to May, so hosting a giant xmas tree lighting there the first Sat in December would be terrific! Good luck in advocating for this change and let me know if you need any assistance 🙂

    1. Sounds like we have a couple of Kids(or parents) unprepared, it is Winter! I think you may be referring to a politician (which was behind our float who supported the Grinch and was hugely appreciated by the kids) who found it necessary to display his City Councillor sign on his vehicle and willy weaved down the street and paused in front of the viewing stand. I have never in my life witnessed such a blatant self promoting activity such as this. It clearly takes away from the spirit of the Parade. Oh well that's politics and this politician.
      I agree with the tree!

  4. Agreed. I think change is indeed challenging at times, but isn't that somewhat the motto of the city at this moment in time? Change – not merely for the sake of change, but to better meet the needs, interests and realities of our community today is what we need. As well, as a resident of the downtown neighborhood and frequent visitor to the River Market, I'd love to see a well lit Hyack Square during the holiday season. Many people use it as a transit point to and from the market and a greater investment in making it feel warm and welcoming would be well received. Once the parade comes and goes, little is left behind to enjoy.

  5. I have just read an article about the Festival of Lights Parade in New Westminster. They start off by saying the free watered down hot chocolate isn't enough to keep their child occupied. The child is cold and bored. The floats are the same as the Hyack Parade in May. Wow. Is this a spoiled or neglected child or what? This event has so many volunteers and businesses who also donate their time and energy. If your child is cold, dress the child warmer. The Parade is in December. You don't hear the participants in the parade complaining. Make and bring your own hot chocolate, then you can enjoy it how your child likes it. You will of course have to pay for this yourself. Perhaps educate your child of the floats that are in the Parade. Be it, New Westminster businesses, the boy scouts, the brownies, etc. Enjoy the music the bands have to offer. Get in a festive mood and chat and play with the other spectators. Some spectators even sing along to the Carols on the various floats. Be a parent and talk to your child, educate your child of what is going on in New Westminster. Teach your child about volunteering and the warmth it can give back to you. Children are never too young to learn. Both my husband and myself will be participating, as we enjoy the smiles and laughter on all the children's faces, regardless of age. If changes are required, perhaps you can volunteer so the Festival of Lights will have something that will make your child happy.

    1. Marge, I wrote a rather petulant reply to this because I felt like you were criticizing my parenting, and since you know me personally that felt a bit hurtful. In retrospect, I've deleted it, because I know that's not likely to be what you meant. I agree that one should put effort into making community events thrive. I do try and put as much effort as my schedule allows, and sometime I have had to pick and choose where my time goes. I tend to choose events that I really enjoy and want to be a part of and unfortunately, this parade is not it. My post was not meant to offend you as a volunteer for this event, but to show my support for the organization's bid to change.

  6. It is great to hear feedback from the community about the Christmas Parade of Lights. We have spent the past year reviewing all the events we produce and it has already resulted in significant changes. We have eliminated the annual Easter Antique Car Parade and FraserFest and introduced Uptown Live, Concerts on the Quay and RiverFest – all in an attempt to make the Hyack Festival Association and the events we produce on behalf of the City more relevant and contemporary. A month ago, we presented Mayor & Council with a plan to transition in 2013 from the Christmas Parade of Lights to a new event called Christmas in the Square. It would involve the elimination of the Christmas Parade and the introduction of a 'static' event at Hyack Square built around a Tree-Lighting Ceremony and a variety of Christmas-themed activities, Christmas vendors and live entertainment. What's more, there would be on-going nightly programming at Hyack Square throughout the month of December. We believe it is in keeping with the direction we need to go to truly provide the community with well-planned and well-executed seasonal events. We certainly welcome your feedback. Let's see how things go this year and we can respond accordingly. Douglas Smith, Executive Director, Hyack Festival Association.

    1. Doug, Is there a Parade this year or not? I am in charge of the FOE (Eagles) float and need time to plan. Also the Grinch will want to know as was very popular with the kids. John Ashdown 604-657-5600

  7. One of the hardest things to do is 'change'. This year, Hyack made some changes to our presentations and received both acolades and criticisms from many New Westminster residents. As a long time promoter of festivals in our City, Hyack is listening to what people are saying and are slowly making improvements to our programs. As next year's President, I am looking for more input from participants, spectators and our sponsors. We do have a lot of traditions which need to be respected as well as a lot of ideas that are being discusssed. Our Association is looking for more members who would like to be involved in the planning and execution of the numerous events we put on. If you would like to be part of this exciting orginization, please contact our office and apply for membership. Remember It is more productive to be part of change within an orginiation than it is to be outside with many good ideas which may not be included as part of the decision making choices. Please contact us at 604-522-6894 or stop by our office @ 204 6th Street to see how you can help.

    Gavin Palmer

  8. I have a five year old who loves this parade in its current format. Yes it's cold, but we prepare. We haven't loved the post-parade activities, but the parade itself has always been a hit. The Hyack square part has just been a bit crowded in our view. And while it's true a lot of politicians go through the parade, that's what most parades are like. It's about highlighting people in the community.
    We hope the parade remains in its current format.

    1. Politicians appearing in support of the Christmas Spirit and celebrating the season is perfectly acceptable. Politicians promoting themselves and overshadowing the intent is absolutely pathetic.

  9. The Parade is a go for this year plus additional activities at the square! Let's all get involved to make it a success. Bundle up and thicken the chocolate because Santa is on his way!

  10. My wife and I and grandchildren went to the Chrisrmas parade last year and the parade was great. The proceedings at Hyack square were less appealing. It is nice that the CIBC was a sponser but how many times did they have to say that CIBC was the sponsor and the hours that the bank was open? They said that information so many times that we started to make jokes – as soon as they started to advertise the CIBC, my wife would say – I wonder what hours they are open? Really how many times do you have to tell me the hours that the bank is open. The kids don't care what hours the bank is open. Santa parades and Christmas tree lightings are for kids not Banks. Say who the sponsor is once – all the adults get it. The advertisements and the political speaches went on too long. That is why the Kids were cold and restless.

  11. I agree – cold, long, and pretty boring. An event like this is competing with more distractions than ever. My kids, in Girl Guides and Brownies, will probably attend, and they'll be standing there in the cold waiting for their turn. When your 9 years old and weigh 50 lbs, it doesn't matter how much you dress up – standing around in the cold makes you freeze.

    An arts and crafts fair would be a lot more fun, with a short parade with Santa.

    Tents, snacks, stuff for sale, crafts to make. Bobbles for the Christmas tree, hand-knit gloves, home-made beeswax candles, Christmas baking, etc. It could be an awesome event. It could be held at the Quay, where you can go into the market and warm up.

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