© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Curious Cbus: What Happened To Columbus' Thanksgiving Parade?

Spectators watch Santa's sleigh roll down High Street in the Lazarus Holiday Parade.
Herb Topy
Columbus Metropolitan Library
Spectators watch Santa's sleigh roll down High Street in the 1955 Lazarus Holiday Parade.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is celebrating its 94th year, and though pandemic precautions mean it will go forward in a slightly diminished capacity, it’s expected to garner as many as 50 million viewers on television and online.

For generations, Columbus had its own festive holiday parade, but that tradition faded decades ago. That led one resident to ask WOSU’s Curious Cbus, “Why did Columbus get rid of the Thanksgiving parade?”

The history of holiday parades in Columbus falls into two distinct eras. The first began in conjunction with the kickoff of the Christmas shopping season at the Lazarus Department Store.

In its heyday, Lazarus was a favorite holiday destination for many families. Outside, visitors were dazzled by elaborate window displays. Inside, children flocked to the sixth floor where the elevator doors would open up to Santaland – a winter wonderland with a talking Christmas tree, a toy workshop and a chance to sit on Santa’s lap.

For decades, the season began with the Lazarus Santa Claus Parade, which eventually grew to a five-mile route from North Broadway to the store downtown.

The very first parade sponsored by F. & R. Lazarus Company was on Friday, Dec. 1, 1922. It featured groups of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts marching up and down several blocks before escorting Santa Claus to the store on High and Town Street.

Years later, the parade became a steady annual tradition, and the date moved to the first Sunday after Thanksgiving.

The 1966 Thanksgiving Parade moves down High Street on Sunday, November 2nd.
Credit Columbus Metropolitan Library
Columbus Metropolitan Library
Santa and his reindeer bring up the rear of the 1966 Lazarus Holiday Parade.

Into the 1950s and 60s, the parade became bigger and bigger, including as many as 10 marching bands, dozens of floats and popular Disney characters. Each year, thousands of spectators braved the cold weather to gather along the parade route.

The Lazarus parade came to a halt in 1973 when the company announced it would cancel the longtime Columbus tradition.

According to a spokesperson quoted in The Columbus Dispatch at the time, there were a number of compelling reasons to discontinue the event: competition with other televised parades held on Thanksgiving Day, a history of bad weather on parade day, and the desire to focus money on entertainment inside the store.

Though the parade was over, Santaland continued to be a beloved holiday event at Lazarus for another 20 years.

The next era of holiday parade began in 1981 when the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored the first Secret Santa Parade. The parade featured large helium balloons, dozens of floats, marching bands, and “elves” collecting money for the Secret Santa charity drive. An estimated 200,000 spectators observed the parade on that chilly Saturday morning. 

Newspaper advertisement for the 1981 Secret Santa Parade.
Credit Columbus Dispatch / Columbus Metropolitan Library
Columbus Metropolitan Library
Newspaper advertisement for the 1981 Secret Santa Parade.

Later, the parade date moved to the Sunday before Thanksgiving and was known simply as The Holiday Parade.

The parade remained a popular draw for crowds until it ended in 1993. The following year, the chamber was unable to secure enough sponsors to fund the parade and Santa had to hitch a ride on the Veterans Day Parade instead.

In 2001, an attempt was made to restart a downtown holiday parade in an effort to revive downtown shopping at the City Center mall, but that event never came together.

Do you have a question for Curious Cbus?

Michael De Bonis develops and produces digital content including podcasts, videos, and news stories. He is also the editor of WOSU's award-winning Curious Cbus project. He moved to Columbus in 2012 to work as the producer of All Sides with Ann Fisher, the live news talk show on 89.7 NPR News.