Santa Claus is coming downtown: what to know about Saturday’s holiday parade

For the first time in nearly a decade, downtown Salem will see a holiday parade and a tree lighting. Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and Buddy the Elf will be walking down the newly decorated streets, joined by local bands, groups and services.

The event, which begins Saturday, Nov. 26 at 6 p.m. is part of a larger effort to support local businesses and rebuild the downtown area’s reputation, said Jim Vu, president of the Salem Main Street Association.

“What we’re trying to do is build a reputation that downtown is welcoming, fun and lively and vibrant,” he said. 

Volunteers have spent the last few weeks hanging lights downtown. The warm-colored light bulbs wrapped around trees and light posts are intended to simulate candlelight.

Twenty-five local businesses are participating in a window decorating contest, and starting next week, Salemites can vote for their favorite. The winner will get $500 donated to the nonprofit of their choice.

“Our goal was just to have almost a Hallmark movie-like setting, where it just sparkles and glows and is warm and welcoming,” Vu said.

The main event is Saturday’s holiday parade, which is pedestrian and non-motorized. Participants will be decorating wagons and bikes instead of driving.

Around 50 groups have signed up for the parade, which will be on foot and scooters. Participants include McKay High School’s boys soccer team – the recent 5A state champions – marching bands from McKay and Sprague High School, and local dance groups.

Vu is looking forward to seeing the 1,000 snowballs he bought for the Buddy the Elf impersonator put to good use. 

In the movie “Elf,” the character famously has a rapid-fire snowball fight with kids. The parade’s snowballs are soft and made of cotton.

“You could throw it as hard as you possibly want to the person you hate the most and they wouldn’t even feel it. So it’s really fun,” Vu said.

Vu said that it has been around a decade since Salem had a parade downtown. He said Keizer Holiday Lights Parade had previously been in downtown Salem. 

On Nov. 14, the City Council approved $15,200 from the Cultural Tourism fund to go toward the holiday parade and tree lighting event. The funds covered the cost of city fees including street closures and permits. Beyond that, Vu said private donors and sponsors covered the parade costs. 

Vu thanked the volunteers for their work on the parade, which he said first started with a conversation with board members over six years ago about making downtown Salem a destination for the holiday season – and rebuilding its reputation.

“Our donors chose to give their money because they saw what the impact can make, and we hope to not let down our donors and for our volunteers to know that they’re all part of the solution,” he said.

They hope to make it an annual event, he said.

The parade starts at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 26. It will begin at Northeast Church Street between State Street Northeast Court Street, meandering through several blocks before ending near the intersection of Northeast Court and Liberty streets.

Holiday Parade route for Saturday, Nov. 26 (Courtesy / Salem Main Street Association)

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.