Long before the Annual NOR Christmas Parade graced the streets of Oildale, our community was already alive with the spirit of the season. The Pairs and Spares Senior Citizens Club was sponsored by the North Bakersfield Recreation and Park District (NOR) adding a heartwarming touch by stuffing letters for the Tuberculosis and Health Association of Kern County. Their festive celebrations, filled with potluck dinners and dances at the now-beloved Riverview Community Center, set the stage for the joyous holiday spirit and numerous holiday activities that would soon bloom.
Back in 1972, the holiday magic extended throughout our County with Christmas Parades, and the District proudly supported these festive endeavors. NOR lent its support and actively participated in the McFarland Christmas Parade. Meanwhile, within the heart of Bakersfield, the city-sponsored third-annual Bakersfield Christmas Parade was eagerly anticipated, yet sadly, the event faced an unexpected cancellation. This turn left a gap in Christmas Parade festivities in the city, becoming what may have potentially been the catalyst for NOR hosting its own Christmas Parade. The spirit of the season, filled with warmth and community togetherness, was destined to find a festive home in our beloved Oildale.
Inaugural Celebration: A Glimpse Into the First Parade
Step back in time to December 15, 1973, when the streets were adorned with anticipation and the air was filled with festive excitement. At precisely 10am, the inaugural edition of our beloved Christmas Parade took its first steps, weaving through the heart of the Oildale community.
Originally known as the "Children's Christmas Parade," families gathered along its route which ran on North Chester Ave from Douglas to Ferguson, culminating at NOR's Standard Park. Imagine the joy radiating from the children as they caught the first glimpses of Santa Claus in his dazzling sleigh. He led the parade, followed by floats adorned with handmade decorations, and spirited marching bands. After the parade, Santa greeted those children with candy canes in the park. Other special guests included Ronald McDonald, Smokie Bear, and Woodsy Owl.
Envisioned with "ecology in mind," it was a "people powered parade." The 1973 Oil Crisis caused a shock across the country, including in Oildale. Fuel shortages quadrupled prices and the entire community was affected. In an effort to combat the effects, rules of the parade stipulated that floats and entries could not be motorized. This unique quality of the parade has persevered for 50 years. The parade emphasized children and student participants, and entries were required to dress as a Christmas or storybook character. Over 5,000 attended and watched the parade, while there were 1,200 marching.
Already an Established Tradition
The 'Yule Parade' was so successful its first year that NOR's parade became known as an annual affair. Entries ranged from local North Bakersfield school entries to girl scout troops to Bakersfield City school entries. All of these groups competed in the NOR's hosted competition Divisions, including Divisions 1 and 2, a Bike Division, and a Band Competition. Fifty years later, performances remain judged by an organized panel and winners are selected.
"...just people power -- feet, feet and more feet. Every parade entry was pushed, pulled or did its own walking..."
Theme: 'Our Christmas Heritage'
Considered an 'old-fashioned Christmas Parade,' the Annual NOR Christmas Parade continued to make an impact in the community. During this time, it was the only holiday parade taking place in Bakersfield. Some things have changed 50 years later -- for instance, NOR builds up the excitement with Santa Claus appearing in the Grand Finale rather than leading the parade. But other things have stayed exactly the same -- such as how the parade began with the unique attribute of being non-motorized, a characteristic that continues to this day as the parade is completely people-powered.
Theme: 'The Christmas Experience'
You may recognize Santa's sleigh being prepped in this photo from 1977. That's because the sleigh NOR lends Santa for the parade is virtually the exact same! NOR values the traditions that have made this parade so special -- and Santa riding in our homemade red sleigh is one of those traditions. This year, in honor of the 50th Anniversary, Santa's sleigh will be refurbished so that we can continue to use it for years to come!
1978 through 2004
NOR's Annual Christmas Parade continued from 1978 onwards without pause. Every year, generations of family members would crowd onto North Chester Avenue to see this traditional parade, watching horses and animals, marching bands, and jubilant walking groups.
Do you have memories from the Christmas Parade? We've extended the deadline and will accept your memories in the form of a written story, photo, or video on our website. Submit your memories today! We are particularly interested in memories from 1978 through 2004.
NOR's tradition of bringing the holiday spirit to Oildale continued. The Annual Christmas Parade has often featured programs available through North of the River Recreation Park District and in 2005, several made an appearance! The Willow Tree Learning Center, NOR Jr. Theatre, and NOR Parks staff all walked in the 2005 parade.
In 2006, entries were super creative with wagons. There were wagons everywhere! Wagons for little ones to watch and enjoy the parade and wagons to pull mini-tree floats.
Impressive performances by local marching bands took place at the 2007 Christmas Parade.
Every year, NOR sees new attendees that are discovering the magic of the Annual NOR Christmas Parade for the first time, as well as families that have made it an annual tradition. In 2011, the streets were packed with attendees!
In celebration of the North of the River Recreation and Park District's Diamond Jubilee, the Christmas Parade in 2015 unfolded as a glorious tribute to 60 years of spreading holiday magic and joy. NOR celebrated 6 decades of dedication to the community and the air was filled with nostalgia and celebration as families gathered to witness the splendor of the parade.
In 2016, the Christmas Parade transformed into a delectable dreamscape with the enchanting theme of a 'Candyland Christmas.' A sweet spectacle unfolded as 56 dazzling entries graced the streets, bringing the magic of sugary delights to life.
As the parade unfolded, 2,000 marchers became living confections, embodying the whimsical spirit of Candyland. The streets of Oildale sparkled with the magic of the holidays, and the memories of this sweet extravaganza lingered long after the last marching group passed by.
"The thing I recall most about the first year I saw it was that I grinned from the time it started 'til the time it ended." - Tonny Gisbertz
In 2017, the Christmas Parade transformed into 'A Country Christmas,' enchanting spectators with the warmth of rural traditions. With 45 festive entries, the parade became a captivating journey, celebrating the charm of the countryside and Oildale roots during the holiday season.
Over 2,500 spirited marchers brought the streets to life, embodying the true spirit of the community. It was a beautiful day, the air was filled with laughter and cheer as families were greeted by the heartwarming sight of horses and sheep, adding a rustic touch of magic to the festivities.
"It's almost always a crisp, clear blue sky." - Mike Maggard
In the tranquil year of 2019, the Christmas Parade embraced the theme of 'Peace Love & Christmas,' turning the streets into a serene canvas of festive bliss. Against the background of this parade's intimate setting, a graceful spectacle of Rodeo Queens on horseback from Glennville marched through and then-County Supervisor Mike Maggard passed out candy. This year, the parade radiated the essence of Christmas -- a celebration of love, joy, and the timeless spirit of togetherness.
"It's really fun to see how people react and cheer for us." - Eden Marquez, Dancer from DanceNation entry
In the heartwarming year of 2021, the Christmas Parade made a triumphant return, spreading festive cheer after a one-year hiatus caused by the challenges of the global pandemic. The parade brought a whimsical touch to the streets of Oildale, signaling the much-anticipated comeback of our beloved holiday tradition. This year's parade became a symbol of resilience, community strength, and the enduring spirit of the holiday season.
"You know, we're a small hometown, a lot of people come out here for it." - Jennifer David, lifelong Oildale resident
The parade embraced the mischievous theme of 'Grinchmas' in 2022, transforming the streets into a wonderland of Whoville delights. For the first time ever, the magic of the parade unfolded both in person and virtually. NOR streamed the parade through the official NOR Facebook page, allowing families who could not attend in person to experience the festivities from the comfort of their homes.
"There's a lot of pride in families that have attended this for generations." - Jasmin LoBasso, Superintendent of Recreation & Community Services