San Francisco, CA

The West Coast's forgotten Thanksgiving Day parade

Built in the Bay
(Courtesy of SFGate)

The kick-off to the holiday season is often marked by changing retail decorations and frigid weather, but regardless of where you are or where you shop, most Americans are familiar with some facet of the holiday parade. Most people think of the Macy's Day Parade and rightfully so. It's been a time-honored tradition for New Yorkers for decades.

However, New York didn't always have a monopoly on holiday parades. In the early 1950s, San Francisco put on its own Thanksgiving Day parade that rivaled the Macy's parade in size and showmanship.

The once-famous Chronicle Christmas Day Parade as it was called, is often forgotten even among the strongest holiday pageantry supporters. According to SFGate, the parade was named as such because it was put on by the San Francisco Chronicle as a gift to the city.

The inaugural parade, which took place in 1952, featured 33 giant balloons like the one seen above and performances from the Drum and Bugle Corps of the Boy Scouts and the Weldonian Band of Oakland. A variety of giant balloons floated down market street, including a vegetable parody of King Arthur's Court, an 18-foot tall elephant, an 80-foot serpent and a train with a 60-foot locomotive.

In its first year, the parade attracted roughly 150,000 people. The next year, it swelled to 200,000 people as the route changed, ending at Civic Center.

The crowds along the route were so thick, people stood on newsstands to get a look at the balloons, according to reporting from The Chronicle the day after the 1953 parade. The most remarkable of which was a two-headed cat and a roaring lion.

"We held it on Thanksgiving, so Mother could get Dad and the kids out of the house while she cooked the turkey," parade director Charles P. Teevin told the Chronicle the day after the inaugural parade. "But it looks like Ma came along and left the turkey to grandmother. And there are a lot of grandmothers here too!"

The following year, the parade was much more modest with some 18 balloons and roughly 7,000 spectators due to unfortunate weather conditions.

The parade never returned after 1954, likely due to funding issues, but for a brief period, the Macy's Day Parade was not the only holiday festivity of its size.

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