Bigger, brighter holiday parade coming to downtown Salem Friday

For Jim Vu, one memory from last year’s downtown holiday parade stands out.

“I was walking behind the Marion County antique fire truck with Santa, and a little girl screamed at the top of her lungs: ‘Santa!’’ he said, drawing out the name. “And it was so special because that was real. Like for her, that was the real moment.”

Vu, president of Salem’s Main Street Association, hopes to create more real moments of holiday magic this year with a bigger and brighter holiday parade.

The parade which starts at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 1, will wind through downtown starting at the intersection of Northeast Waverly Street and State Street and end with a tree lighting at the intersection of Northeast Liberty Street and Northeast Court Street.

2023 Downtown Salem Holiday Parade Route (Courtesy/ Salem Main Street Association)

Last year, which was the first holiday parade in nearly a decade, Vu said they expected at most 3,000 attendees. Instead, between 8,000 and 12,000 people showed up. This year, they’re expecting even more. 

“It just blew our mind,” he said. “We didn’t realize how much people enjoyed or wanted an event like this for the community, and that was so special.”

With a parade route four times longer than last year, he hopes to give more people a front-row view of the parade floats. Downtown is also decked out with around 130,000 holiday lights, an increase of 60,000 from the year before.

Fifty groups signed up to participate in the parade this year, an increase from last year, and this time including vehicles rather than just walking groups.

Buddy the Elf and Santa will lead the parade, said organizer Sara Ngo, and nearly 75% of the participants are nonprofits.

Ngo said she’s especially excited for a group of around 50 kids participating on decorated bicycles, the Sprague High School marching band and the McKay High School cheerleaders.

The Salem Multicultural Institute, which puts on the World Beat festival, will be hauling a dragon boat, and Training 4 Responders, a local CPR education company, will bring the 1978 LaFrance Fire Truck used in the 1997 movie “Con Air” starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack.

Vu said Buddy the Elf will have twice as many snowballs as last year to throw at onlookers, which was a highlight from last year’s parade. At the end of the route, Buddy will lead a singalong from a stage ahead of the tree lighting.

Mayor Chris Hoy and Santa will light the tree, which will be above Winslow Boutique, from atop a fire truck. This year’s tree is larger than the last, and includes some surprises Vu didn’t want to share ahead of the big day. 

Ngo said the parade took a lot of volunteer work to organize and decorate.

“It takes a lot of hours to put this together and there’s a lot of really neat people that want to hang out a couple times a month and try to plan a parade,” she said.

Vu said he hopes the parade will kick off the holiday shopping season for local businesses downtown.

“At the end of the day, an event like this is to show that downtown is festive, welcoming and vibrant,” he said. 

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

SUPPORT OUR WORK – We depend on subscribers for resources to report on Salem with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!

Avatar photo

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.