For decades two popular traditions — illumination of the Temple Square lights and West Valley City’s Santa Christmas Parade — helped Utahns usher in the holiday season.
The Temple Square lights will ignite at dusk as usual on the day after Thanksgiving, but the Santa parade in Utah’s second largest city is no more.
This year, instead of being escorted to the Valley Fair Mall by musicians in marching bands, pompom-waving dance troupes and whooping, hollering El Kalah Shriners in their vintage “Yellowstone” tour bus, Santa Claus will arrive by whirlybird, marking the end of a parade tradition that stretches back 45 years.
“It’s been a wonderful tradition and was one of those events that helped bring the community together,” said Kevin Fayles, a longtime community activist in West Valley. “I haven’t heard why anyone thought it should end. I just hope Santa Claus doesn’t bring the city a lump of coal this Christmas.”
For many, though, time and circumstances turned against the parade.
A procession that clogged the streets and the parking lot surrounding the newly expanded mall on the day after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest days of the year for retailers, no longer seemed to make sense.
“It just didn’t mesh well any longer with all the traffic coming to the mall on Black Friday,” said Jonny Arbuckle, who manages Valley Fair. “What we’re planning on doing instead is to take all the effort and energy that went into putting on the parade and refocusing it on a new Winter Festival celebration.”
A partnership made up of Valley Fair, West Valley City and ChamberWest, the regional chamber of commerce that represents West Valley, Taylorsville and Kearns, is behind the Winter Festival.
“The new festival will allow the community to come together in new ways as the heart of West Valley City continues to grow,” said Alan Anderson, president and chief executive of ChamberWest, which put on the Santa Christmas Parade every year.
Although Anderson said it is time to “get new traditions going as development continues” in and around Valley Fair, he also waxed nostalgic about the parade that attracted 3,000 to 5,000 viewers each year.
“I can remember marching in the parade as a student at Granger High School,” he said. “I have some fond memories of it.”
But the parade’s objective was to get Santa to the Valley Fair, and that has become increasingly difficult with the new TRAX line, the MAX bus route along 3500 South and all the new development at the mall, he said. “We’re still going to get him there, but this year Santa will be arriving on Saturday at noon in Chopper 5.”
Arbuckle added the monthlong Winter Festival will offer performances by singers, dance troupes and others throughout the season.
“Performances will be held here [at Valley Fair] and also at the city center campus across the street,” he said. “We’re hoping many of those groups that perform will be those that would have marched in the parade.”
Still, for many the experience of seeing all the eager-eyed children who staked out their spots along the parade route to get a glimpse of that jolly old elf is something that won’t easily be replaced.
For much of the parade’s history, the El Kalah Shriners were in attendance, usually packed aboard their decorated yellow tour bus. And at other times, Shriners from Ogden would participate, motoring along the parade route in their miniature Model T’s.
“We’d always try to be there, unless there was 4 feet of snow on the ground,” Shriner Bill Vorhees said. “We’d yell and holler and have a good time. But at the same time we’d be letting the community know we were supporting the Shriners Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. You just hate to see those kinds of traditions end.”
Winter Festival performers sought
Those who would like to take part in the new Winter Festival by performing should call Jan Brownstein at Valley Fair Mall at 801-871-2342 to schedule their appearance.