When the Days of ’47 Youth Parade travels through Salt Lake City on Saturday morning, it will mark the end of an 80-year-old Mormon tradition — organizers have decided to discontinue the event after 2018.
“We are very sad,” said parade co-chairwoman Jodene Smith. “It’s been going since 1938. That’s a long time."
The months of work required to plan and create the parade floats contributed to the event’s demise.
Smith said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assigns clusters of LDS congregations — called stakes — to create floats for the youth parade as well as the larger Days of ’47 Parade held as part of the state’s Pioneer Day holiday.
Sometimes, the way the rotation happens, Smith said, congregations have to make floats two years in a row for the celebrations that honor the Mormon pioneers' arrival in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847.
By ending the youth parade, "they are trying to give the stakes a little more time in between floats so it’s not so taxing,” she said. "It means stakes won’t be doing double duty.”
Besides being one of the oldest parades for children, the Days of ’47 Youth Parade also has been one of the largest in the country, each year involving more than 4,500 youths who march, wave, dance, carry balloons or perform along the streets of Salt Lake City.
In addition to floats, there usually are high school marching bands, dance groups and plenty of youngsters dressed as Utah-themed characters — from bees and crickets to pioneers in historical dress to Mormon missionaries in dark suits and ties.
There will be plenty of those characters in Saturday’s parade, which starts at 10 a.m. at 600 East and 500 South. It will travel west on 500 South, ending at City Hall, where a family festival at Washington Square will take place with food, games and activities until 2 p.m.
Judges will determine which float best portrays the Days of ’47′s 2018 theme, “Pioneer Stories — Foundation for the Future." The winner will be invited to participate in the “big parade," which takes place Tuesday.
“It’s small and energetic,” Smith said of the parade. “But the children make it so enjoyable. No matter if they are the first entry or No. 50, they are so happy to be there.”
Smith said that children often are encouraged to participate in the making of the float, in some way. "They are so excited to put their handprints on the float,” she said. “They’re just so proud of their work. I’ll miss those little faces.”
Most of the work, however, is done by adults, who already have busy work and family lives. That’s one of the reasons some Mormons are happy to see the youth parade retired.
Jennifer Schiel, a Salt Lake City Latter-day Saint who was asked to design a float for this year’s parade, believes there are other, more meaningful options that the church could explore.
“Let’s replace it with a children’s art festival where the youth are involved and feel ownership, and they make something meaningful about their pioneer heritage,” she said. “This would be so much less expensive and more valuable than adults building a float.”
Still, many have fond memories of participating in the parade, something their families have done for generations.
“I was an ear of corn once in the mid-1970s,” Susan Meredith Hinckley, a former Salt Lake City resident who now lives in Phoenix, recalled in a social media post. “I didn’t get the luxury of a float. … The ears of corn marched in rows behind, of course. Brilliant choreography.”
Amri Brown walked in the parade when she was 8.
“I was in a pioneer children’s outfit and I walked and walked and walked AND WALKED,” she wrote, riffing off an LDS children’s song. “I have no idea how I got in it, and I was walking behind a covered-wagon float.”
In the future, Mormon children won’t get that experience, but at least their parents will have one fewer church tasks.