Nashville’s Christmas Parade dates back to Nov. 28, 1927, and it has been a staple of Middle Tennessee’s holiday festivities ever since. Numerous organizations and entertainers have participated in the parade since its inception, spreading holiday cheer to thousands of parade goers each year.
The first parade was originally sponsored by the Associated Retailers of Nashville. By 1930, Nashville’s daily newspapers were sponsoring the parade, along with WLAC Radio. In 1947, Newspaper Printing Corporation took sole sponsorship for the parade and was involved through the 1951 parade. Nashville Gas Company became the sponsor in 1952, and the utility, now known as Piedmont Natural Gas, has continued to be the title sponsor to this day.
Throughout the years, Nashville residents and out-of-town guests have flocked together in big numbers to see the parade. The Tennessean reported that an estimated 400,000 people attended the parade in 1951, the largest attendance on record. Following the war years of 1941-1946 when there wasn’t a parade, many of the parades had in excess of 200,000 spectators between the early 1950s and early 1980s.
During its long history, there have been numerous parade routes. The original parade ended where it started at the Haymarket on South Second Street. In the 1940s and 1950s, the spectators packed Church Street to enjoy the festivities. The parade was held in the afternoon in 1952 after occurring at night for many years. The route was later moved from Church Street to Broadway in 1958, where it is currently held.
Although the parade began in 1927, the first recorded theme was “Christmas Descends on Nashville” in 1947. Themes have varied throughout the years and a full list of the themes can be found here.
In 2015, the parade moved to its present Saturday morning time.
The parade route was also reversed to march down Broadway, then up 2nd Avenue North and across the river before ending at the base of the Woodland Street Bridge.
The list of Grand Marshals is impressive, with numerous entertainers and celebrities honored as leaders of the Nashville Christmas Parade. Many country music stars, including Brenda Lee, Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, Dottie West, Jerry Reed and Charlie Daniels, have been Grand Marshals. When Music City celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1980, 200 local residents were selected at random to be Grand Marshals in the parade. It was rumored that Elvis Presley would be in the 1956 parade. The crowd of 200,000 anxiously waited to catch a glimpse of the King of Rock and Roll but left disappointed, as Elvis never appeared. A full list of Grand Marshals can be found here. Here are other significant events in the parade’s history:
- In 1969, 14 floats from Miami’s Orange Bowl Parade participated in Nashville’s parade.
- In 1981, a bomb threat delayed the parade for a brief period as officials searched the lead float. When the threat proved to be a false alarm, the parade continued as scheduled.
- When the University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland Band came to Nashville in 1972 to participate in the parade, Vanderbilt students showered them with oranges as they marched past the twin-tower dormitories near 21st and West End avenues.
- In 1972, the parade was televised for the first time by WNGE-TV, Channel 2, and the television station became a co-sponsor in 1982. When ABC television network was searching for a parade to telecast nationally in 1976, Nashville’s parade was selected as one of the four most promising in the country. Though ABC’s plans never became reality, officials indicated that Nashville’s parade was near the top of their list.
- In 2015, WKRN-TV, NEWS TWO resumed its live broadcast of the Parade and will add a Sunday replay of the event beginning in 2016.