In 1929, a fantastic Richmond holiday tradition was born: the Christmas Toy Parade. Every year, just after Thanksgiving, families gathered on Broad Street to watch floats, bands, clowns, and local drill teams herald the arrival of the holiday season.
The highlight of the parade? Giant gas-filled balloons depicting different characters each year: Snow White, Smokey Bear, Peter Pan, Jack Sprat, Snoopy, a gorilla, a dragon, Frankenstein, and even a toy train that was 150 feet long.
Sponsored by Thalhimer’s Department Store, the parade always ended at that store on what was then Richmond’s main shopping thoroughfare. It was at this point on the parade route that Santa Claus climbed into the store’s second-story window, announcing his readiness to hear the Christmas wishes of every boy and girl.
With only a short hiatus during World War II, the Toy Parade became so popular that officials estimated 100,000 spectators attended the 1968 festivities. In 1973, however, the parade was canceled due to shifting concerns of its sponsor.
Richmond would not have another Christmas parade until 1985, when the Jaycees and Best Products (a popular Richmond-based retailer of the time) revived the tradition. For seventeen years, Ukrop’s Supermarket was that parade’s title sponsor until the Richmond icon was sold in 2009. Dominion Energy became the Christmas Parade’s title sponsor in 2010, and the parade has been known as the Dominion Energy Christmas Parade ever since. This year, the parade, like many events that involve gathering in crowds, is shifting gears, and will be a TV-only event, broadcast locally on CBS6.
Photos: Amir Pishdad, Joseph Colognori, Richmond Times-Dispatch Collection, The Valentine