Santa Claus has come to town again—waving from high atop his sleigh at the end of a cavalcade of clowns, elves, funny-looking animals, fire-trucks, floats pulled by smelly tractors, and quite a number of marching bands—winding his way through the snowy streets. As usual, he was welcomed by thousands of cheering youngsters and their freezing parents.
I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a parade?
The first one I remember attending was one long-ago winter when I was about five years old. My memories are somewhat hazy, of course, but slivers of razor-sharp, colourful images still poke through the mists of time.
It wasn’t snowing, but snow was on the ground, and it was frosty. I was bundled warmly, so the cold didn’t matter. My father was with me, my mother home with my brother, too young yet to brave the crowd. I don’t think I missed him, so happy was I to enjoy the undivided attention of my dad.
Lots of people were huddled in our vicinity, crowding the street, some singing Christmas songs, some sipping from flasks (my dad included), some blowing into their hands with icy breaths. We were right on the kerb beside a lamppost, and I alternated between sitting on the frozen pavement and climbing into my dad’s arms. He leaned against the post and seemed quite happy to wait forever.
And forever was how long it seemed to take for Santa to arrive. He was preceded by all those clowns and elves, the marching bands, and several horse-drawn floats—each of which was followed by elves with pails and shovels. Even at my tender age, I knew that was not a plum assignment. Those elves had been naughty, not nice, I figured.
We knew when Santa drew close to the corner at the end of the block by the sound of the crowds further down the street, closer to the end of the parade. Strident shouts of “Here he comes!” merged into one loud, excited hubbub, causing all around us to lean out over the street, craning our necks to be the first to spy him.
When he hove into view, ‘forever’ finally came to an end. His reindeer were seemingly frozen in flight in front of his gigantic sleigh, and I remember shrinking back against my father’s legs, almost afraid to believe it was true. Santa Claus really had come to town!
My dad lifted me high in his arms, and we waved and shouted as loudly as we could. Santa looked right at us, I was sure, and tossed us a friendly wink. If my father believed in Santa, that was good enough for me. I was hooked from that moment on.
It’s almost seventy years now since that eventful day, and I’ve attended more than my share of Santa Claus parades—several with my father and younger siblings, and then much later with my own children. I’ve also heartily enjoyed fall-fair parades, Easter parades, Mardi Gras parades (with their madly-flung beads), and even, believe it or not, a Stanley Cup parade. Once.
They were magical, every one.
As I think back on them, however, it seems to me that the best one of all is the daily passing parade in front of me. Unlike those Santa Claus parades of yore—which returned every year in one form or another—the daily parade passes us by just one time. We can never again see its beginning, nor can we slow its progress down. Once past, it’s gone for all time.
That’s the bad news. The better news is that each additional day brings another segment of this lifelong parade. We form our earliest childhood friendships; we trundle nervously off to our first day of school; we fall in love, perchance more than once; we begin a first job, probably nervously, maybe joyously. With any luck, we meet the one of our dreams and marry (or form a union of whatever sort); we find a home; perhaps we have children; and, if so blessed, we eventually send them off to their own parades. In this great procession of life, we are all participants, enjoying the journey while we may.
But all the while, as we play a part in this passing parade, we grow ever older.
I have grandchildren now, and their parents are the ones who take them to all the parades of childhood. My involvement is less a partaker, more an onlooker. Not a passive spectator, mind you, for that’s not in my nature. Whenever I can, I’m with them at their big events, basking in their excitement and wonder—but from the sidelines.
For example, we join in their birthday celebrations, my wife and I, but we’re the old folks now. Our children’s friends acknowledge us politely, even warmly, for we’ve known them a long time. But we’re always on the edges of their conversations, not at the centre, because they’re all marching in their own parades.
So, I think of myself as a bemused bystander now—alternately pleased or disappointed, excited or disenchanted, optimistic or skeptical—as I observe the passing parade. Age, I’m finding, requires a degree of withdrawal from youth’s full-bore involvement in the world around. Yet I have never tired of witnessing the tumult and the shouting.
I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a parade?