LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — Spirited parade-goers were claiming their spots in downtown Lakeland before the sun came up Thursday in anticipation of the return of a beloved holiday tradition.
“We’re getting in the Christmas spirit,” said Theophilus Murray, who lives in Lakeland.
Murray usually stakes out his family’s favorite spot on Main Street in Munn Park at midnight. Luckily for him, it was still available when he arrived just after 4am.
“We always do this. It’s like a family routine that we put our chairs out and enjoy the parade. It’s lovely around this time. And we didn’t have it last year because of COVID so we’re just expecting a lot of people to come back,” he said.
Starting in 2019, the city of Lakeland prohibited chairs along the parade route until the day of the event.
Enthusiastic people would place their chairs days ahead of time which caused a safety hazard, officials said.
Thursday’s festivities kick off with fireworks over Lake Mirror at 7pm.
At the same time, the parade leaves RP Funding Center and winds around downtown Lakeland.
“We have 88 participants this year,” said Kevin Cook, city of Lakeland director of communications. “Now that’s down a little bit from previous years. Again I hate to keep saying the COVID word but I do believe that’s because of COVID and it was just not on everyone’s mind because of registration time.”
Planning for the event begins months in advance with safety as a top priority.
“I don’t want to go into too much detail but we have plans in place,” Cook said. “We also use some of our larger public works trucks, meaning our garbage trucks, to block certain streets so there is a safety plan in place and I do believe that everyone’s safe for this parade.”
The city considers Thursday night’s parade as a kick off to the holiday season.
Other holiday events in Lakeland this month include:
- First Friday Hometown Holiday on December 3rd, This FREE event takes place in Downtown Lakeland from 6-9pm
- Snowfest on December 4th, Lake Mirror from 5 – 9 p.m. Admission is one non-perishable food item to benefit VISTE
- Santa’s Calling on December 7th, the youngest members of the community can register to get a call from Santa.
- Festive Flix – Movie Night on November 10th with Elf at the Frances Langford Promenade 6-8pm
- The Holly Jog Jingle Bell Jog, December 11. This fun 5k race has participants dressed in Holiday Cheer. HBJOG.com
- Selfies with Santa on December 11th from 10am-1:30pm. Get you photo with Santa in beautiful Hollis Garden
- Holiday Night Market, December 11 – Downtown Lakeland 5-10pm. This free holiday themed event will have a number of very cool merchandise and food vendors along with holiday entertainment.
- Canned Tuna Concert in Munn Park on December 17th. Rex Floyd, the Pink Floyd cover band will light up Munn Park and they promise some Holiday Cheer. Please bring a non-perishable food item to benefit VISTE.
- Tasty Tuesday, December 21, 4:30-9pm. This is a super fun way to experience multiple downtown restaurants all in one festive night. You can purchase tickets online or the night of the event. Go to downtownlkld.com for more info.