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Peoria's annual Santa Claus Parade returns, though Waukesha attack alters the route

Santa Claus parade
Peoria Area Community Events
Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus at Peoria's Santa Claus Parade.

The holiday season wouldn't be the same in the Peoria area without the annual Santa Claus parade organized by the Peoria Area Community Events (PACE) board.

Susie Stockman serves on the PACE board and is also the co-chair of the Santa Claus parade, which takes place in downtown Peoria. With the parade being the longest running Santa Claus parade in the country, the pressure was on last year to keep the festivities going amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were kind of sketchy on how we were going to do it because we didn’t want to break the tradition ... so that’s why we were stationary for most of it and just went the one block for the TV,” explained Stockman.

While the parade did take place last year, the pandemic placed restrictions on how it operated. The parade only traveled one block for a televised broadcast instead of its usual one and a half miles, and no candy was thrown into the crowd.

This year, Stockman assures people that the parade is back to its full capacity with a theme of “A Candyland Christmas."

Susie Stockman, PACE
Jody Holtz
Co-chair of Peoria's Santa Claus Parade Susie Stockman

However, recent events are still influencing the parade.

"Due to the tragic circumstances in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and out of an abundance of caution, we are modifying our parade route this year to increase public safety," PACE announced Monday on Facebook. "The parade will now start on Monroe at Bryan, proceed to Main St., left on Main to Adams St., left on Adams St. to end at Hamilton St. The parade will not turn on Jefferson or Liberty St."

The return to a more normal setup is good news for the parade's attendees, which according to Stockman average between 5,000 and 8,000 people each year. Over 70 units will be included in the parade, with hundreds of participants walking or traveling on floats from a variety of different sectors.

“We have maybe 15 not for profit groups that do it, we have Girl Scouts Groups, we have organizations, we have commercial units ... it's to entertain the children and we don’t want to be a commercial parade. We want it for the kids, not for advertising,” said Stockman.

Of course, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus will also be making a grand appearance, which is a role Stockman is quite familiar with. Mrs. Claus wasn’t introduced into the parade until 2006, and Stockman has served as the first, and only, Mrs. Claus the parade has had since that time.

While the parade's primary goal is to entertain children and welcome in the holiday season, there is a bit of competition added to the mix.

“We change the theme annually because there is a competition ... and we do give out awards ... the biggest point value is the theme,” said Stockman.

Awards are separated into categories based on different types of floats, such as commercial, nonprofit, novelty, religious, and others.

With the parade being over a centennial old, the tradition is firmly grounded into Peoria’s roots, and Stockman is a firm believer that the community's morale is strong enough to support this parade for as long as possible.

“I hope it keeps on forever. I’d hate to break the tradition. I think everyone buys into this parade and looks forward to this parade ... we’ve had a lot of people that propose during the parade because it's such a tradition between two families and kids love it. They get the candy, they see Santa, and it starts the Christmas season” said Stockman.

Stockman extends a special invitation to first responders, such as EMTs, healthcare workers, firefighters, and anyone in the police to participate in the parade by walking this year in an effort to show gratitude for their service during the pandemic.

“We want to recognize them this year and we ask them to participate in the parade and gather in front of the Central house on Monroe. We would like to give recognition to them and thank them for all their services,” said Stockman.

The parade steps off this Friday, Nov. 26, at 10:15 a.m. The parade will start on Monroe at Bryan, proceed to Main St., left on Main to Adams St., left on Adams St. to end at Hamilton St. The parade will not turn on Jefferson or Liberty St. Learn more about PACE and the parade.

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Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program director and host of WCBU's newsmagazine All Things Peoria and WCBU's morning news podcast On Deck.