Skip to Main Content

The Story of Hollywood's Christmas Parade

Tags: Events Historic Hollywood

Hollywood Boulevard hosts its perennial Christmas Parade each year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a festive tradtion going back over 90 years. From its beginnings, the parade has welcomed in the holiday season and inaugurated shopping opportunities along the bustling street.

Colonel Harry Baine, head of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in 1928, seeing the success of New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the downtown Los Angeles Christmas Parade, conceived a brilliant idea to capitalize on the joy and happiness of the season while promoting holiday shopping along the world famous Hollywood Boulevard. He nicknamed the boulevard Santa Claus Lane from La Brea Avenue to Vine Street for the festive occasion, with a grand parade featuring the jolly old St. Nick himself.

Hollywood Blvd. as "Santa Claus Lane"

For that very first parade, Baine coaxed Universal actress Jeannette Loff to pose and then ride with Santa in the one reindeer-drawn sleigh down the Boulevard, joined by a few floats. The parade quickly grew in popularity, thanks to the smart decision to approach studios about stars’ participation, thus becoming a quid pro quo of free publicity for everyone involved. Adding to the event’s luster, eye-popping decorations festooned light poles along the street, ranging from wreaths filled with enlarged portraits of Hollywood stars to electrified metal Christmas trees, all making the Boulevard a beautiful place to shop during the holidays.

Each year, a different star served as grand marshal, riding with Santa in his sleigh down Hollywood Boulevard, which eventually was placed on a truck and carried down the parade route. At the same time, celebrities were chosen each year to throw the switch illuminating the colorful decorations.

The parades grew in size as well, from just a few floats in 1928 to elaborate equestian teams, drill teams, and bands, including the USC Trojan Marching Band, taking part by the mid-1930s. Stars from cinema and radio began participating in those early years as well. In 1936, Bette Davis switched on the lights, and Mary Pickford cut the ribbon across Hollywood Boulevard and Argyle Avenue starting the parade. According to the November 28, 1936 Los Angeles Times, “Heading the parade will be Victor McLaglen and his famous Lighthorse Troop, with Tom Mix and Leo Carrillo. Riding with Santa Claus will be Edmund Lowe and Miss Davis.”

Roy Rogers served as grand marshal of the 1940 Santa Claus Lane Parade. Actress Dorothy Lamour and singer Rudy Vallee rode with Santa in his sleigh, with Vallee singing Christmas carols throughout the route. Famous puppet Charlie McCarthy wore an Army Air Corps uniform, escorted by his human partner, Edgar Bergen. Eddie “Rochester” Anderson chauffeured Jack Benny in his old car, while comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen rode the “Nut House” comic float. Bob Hope and Jerry Colonna rode in a decorated car.

When Gene Autry participated in the 1946 parade, he supposedly heard kids shouting “Here Comes Santa Claus, Here Comes Santa Claus,” inspiring him to write the popular Christmas song.

The Santa Claus Lane parade even found its way into a motion picture. During the 1951 film Hollywood Story, in which a film producer (Richard Conte) investigates a long ago Hollywood scandal and murder which threatens his life, one scene was filmed during the parade in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

The Hollywood Christmas Parade passes the Chinese Theatre in 1960.

By 1956, fire marshals considered the wiring unsafe in the electrified Christmas trees, and the decorations were mothballed along the Boulevard, though the popular parade continued, this time to crowds of almost 500,000 people.

Renamed the Hollywood Christmas Parade in 1978, it was broadcast locally by KTLA. A 2004 special on NBC about the parade flopped. Various issues led the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to cancel it in 2007. After much popular disapproval and protests, the City and County of Los Angeles reintroduced the parade, finding media companies to produce and present it in exchange for broadcast rights.

Associated Television now produces and presents the Hollywood Christmas Parade. Taped for later broadcast on television, the parade features Entertainment Tonight’s Nacny O’Dell as grand marshal, with Montel Williams, Dean Cain, Erik Estrada, and Laura McKenzie serving as hosts. Live music performances will occur, long with ever popular marching bands, equestrian troops, larger than life inflatable character balloons, and celebrity-filled cars.

90 years after it first began, the Hollywood Christmas Parade still brings joy to kids of all ages, celebrating the glamorous street and town and kicking off the festive, family-filled holiday season.

Mary Mallory is the author of Hollywoodland and three other books. She also writes for the blog the LA Daily Mirror and serves on Hollywood Heritage’s Board of Directors.