A look back at the history of the Schenectady Holiday Parade

The beloved holiday tradition got its start in 1968
Scenes from the 49th annual Daily Gazette Holiday Parade in downtown Schenectady.
Scenes from the 49th annual Daily Gazette Holiday Parade in downtown Schenectady.

Editor’s Note: This information was condensed from previously published Daily Gazette articles.

One of the Capital Region’s most beloved holiday traditions got its start in 1968, when members of the Schenectady Downtown Merchants Bureau were brainstorming ideas on how to promote downtown businesses for the upcoming season.

While one member’s suggestion of having Santa Claus jump out of a helicopter, surprising everyone, was quickly dismissed, another member asked, “What about a parade instead?”

According to a 2013 Daily Gazette article written by Bethany Bump, Joe Dalton and Ed Lewi — the latter best known as owner of his own advertising and public relations firm — both members of the bureau at the time, organized the entire event, from recruiting Santa and his reindeer to convincing the four animal characters from the popular Sunday morning television show “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour” to march in the parade. 

In some ways, it’s a miracle the first Schenectady Holiday Parade even took place.

“Santa was running two hours late and about half of the live reindeer were pregnant, with some near labor,” according to the 2013 article. “State police ended up searching for Santa, [and] found him just in time, enjoying a beer at a nearby restaurant.”

Although Dalton vowed he’d never organize another parade, he did — the 1969 Schenectady Holiday Parade. Ever since, it has served as the symbolic start to the holiday season in the Capital Region. 

More from 125 Years of Gazette special anniversary edition:

While a few things have been modified over its 51-year history, the annual parade remains one of downtown Schenectady’s most anticipated events, drawing thousands from the Capital Region and beyond. In 2007, organizers decided to change the date and time of the parade, from Black Friday at 7 p.m. to the Saturday before Thanksgiving at 5 p.m. Ten years later, in 2017, the parade’s organization and execution transferred from the Capital Region Chamber to The Gazette’s new events department, in partnership with the city of Schenectady. Volunteers and financial assistance from major business sponsors allow the tradition to continue. 

The 2019 edition of the Schenectady Holiday Parade will take place on Saturday, Nov. 23, beginning at 5 p.m. Make what’s become known as the Northeast’s largest nighttime holiday parade part of your holiday tradition.

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