21st Annual Downtown Parade of Lights Showcases Tucson’s Holiday Spirit

December 3, 2015

One of the winning entries in the 2012 parade.

One of the winning entries in the 2012 parade.

By Simon Brimmer

Just because it’s the desert, and just because it isn’t the fallback Rockwell style poster for seasonal happenings, doesn’t mean Tucson is oblivious to the holiday spirit.

Quite the opposite. In fact, important dignitaries have long been well aware of the appeal of the Downtown Parade of Lights, with an array of activities set to begin for this year’s event around 4pm Saturday, Dec. 19.

“Santa will be here,” said Parade of Lights coordinator and Downtown Tucson Partnership Director of Operations Brandi Haga-Blackman “He wouldn’t miss it. He loves it here. He told me that one year. ‘I’d rather be here than Norway or something.’ That’s what he said.”

And if the jolly one said it, who are we to refute that? Tucson is ideal for holiday fun. You get the sensation of crisp, desert nights, adding to the festive feel, without the annoyance of shoveling piles of snow while trying to navigate the abysmal winter slosh.

The man himself, Santa.

The man himself, Santa.

Snow and slosh is not much fun.

The Downtown Parade of of Lights and holiday festival? Now that’s fun.

Folks in the Old Pueblo like fun, and as such, they have become well aware of the event, which continues to balloon in popularity.

“I’ve been coordinating this for eight years now, and every year it continues to grow,” Haga-Blackman said. “We’ll probably have 1,500 people in the parade this year, and it’s getting so popular we might have to put a cap on it. The entries just get better and better. The entries aren’t just taking a string of lights and walking around. They’re taking the time to research how to make a great float. It’s really a spectacle.”

The parade is the main event, and it begins at 6:30 and due to the large number of participants will probably last in the 90-minute to two-hour neighborhood. But other activities are well underway before then. Armory Park will be the gathering site beginning at 4. There, holiday well-wishers will enjoy shopping options, live entertainment, food and beverage booths, and prepare for the Mayor’s annual tree lighting ceremony, set for 5:45.

The 501st Legion in the 2012 Downtown Parade of Lights.

The 501st Legion in the 2012 Downtown Parade of Lights.

There’s also a new addition. Holiday fans of legal drinking age will be able to enjoy some seasonal spirits in the Beer Garden at The Downtown Clifton, 485 S. Stone, itself an excellent location for parade viewing.

“Everyone is catching on to all these great events for the holidays,” said Haga-Blackman, who also notes the Armory Park location is an ideal jumping off point for some further Downtown exploration. “It’s really part of a greater Downtown-in-December series of events. See the lights, see the decorated windows of the Downtown businesses.”

Haga-Blackman believes the Parade of Lights, now celebrating its 21st year, turned the corner and exploded in popularity a few years ago, “when most people got back on their feet after the recession and they wanted to be a part of the community and participate.”

But it’s her job to make sure they enjoy the experience and will come back again. That requires a great deal of time and planning behind the scenes.

Another popular entry, Old Pueblo Vintage Fire Brigade.

Another popular entry, Old Pueblo Vintage Fire Brigade.

“It’s a lot of work, a lot of detail,” she said. “The No. 1 thing is communication between all parties and communication with the parade entries. If a parade entrant doesn’t feel like they know where to go, when to go, why, what they’re doing, they won’t want to participate in future years, and that’s not what we want. So making it as easy as possible for the entrants, and for the public to come down, so they know where to go to watch the parade, where there’s food, and Santa Claus. It’s really a great time. It’s a new tradition to be Downtown for the holidays.”

Santa agrees. As does Tucson.

Info and specifics on the annual Downtown Parade of Lights, presented by Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital and Cox Communications, is available here or on Facebook.