Here comes Santa

The Jaycees ensured Santa Claus continued to visit Grand Rapids each year.

The annual Santa Claus Parade in downtown Grand Rapids was started by Wurzburg’s department store. In the 1920s, Santa Claus would arrive from the North Pole by train at Union Station, where he was greeted by a crowd. A “glittering parade” of children followed him through the streets to the toy department at Wurzburg’s, presumably with their parents in tow to make purchases. By 1935, the event had turned into a traditional parade, complete with floats and marching bands.

Then, as shopping malls began popping up outside of downtown, Wurzburg’s opened suburban locations in 1964 and 1966 and closed their downtown store in October 1971. Other downtown merchants managed to keep the costly parade afloat for a couple of years, but ultimately couldn’t sustain it. After seven years with no Santa Claus Parade, the Grand Rapids Jaycees revived the event in 1978. That year, the group managed to pull off a parade with 56 floats, 1,600 participants and 20,000 spectators with little more than a month of planning. With a hundred years of history behind it, the Jaycees have continued to organize the annual parade, kicking off the holiday season for Grand Rapids each year.

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