Growth of parade, Silver Spring in step
County’s annual procession adds more floats, marchers, excitement
‘‘It hasn’t become so sophisticated that the community has been taken out of it,” said Gary Stith, director of the Silver Spring Regional Center.
Stith, who has been to all 10 parades, said the event is bigger and longer than it was during its first run in 1998. There will be 130 parade units included this year, and about 10 of those are floats.
The first parade 10 years ago was actually a return of the event after a hiatus of more than 25 years. It was then known as the Montgomery County Holiday Parade, and was held in December after Thanksgiving.
Jerry McCoy, president of the Silver Spring Historical Society, said he was never able to pin down the reason Silver Spring did not host a parade between 1970 and 1998. The parade that debuted in 1953 was sponsored by the Silver Spring Board of Trade, a precursor to the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce. McCoy said that event was meant to kick off the holiday shopping season, and premiered with 50 inflatable balloons, even more than today. More than 100,000 people attended the 1953 parade, he said.
His best guess as to why Silver Spring stopped hosting the parade in 1970 was a general disinterest among those involved.
‘‘The downturn in economic viability at the time, mixed in with a general malaise felt by Vietnam War and social changes in American society... it just sort of all congealed together, and there was little to no interest in continuing this event,” he said.
The revitalized parade in 1998 included the Montgomery Blair High School drill team, mounted police, martial arts students and gymnasts, firefighters, antique vehicles and the Silver Spring Library bookmobile.
Santa Claus has made all 10 appearances, along with a contingent of elected officials and military representatives. Regular participants include the Washington Redskins Marching Band and the U.S. Army Fife and Drum Corps.
‘‘We didn’t have the entertainment we have now. ... There’s definitely more interest in the event,” said Susan Hoffmann, marketing and special events manager for the Silver Spring Regional Center who has assisted in organizing the parade since it returned in 1998.
The parade has also gotten more attention over the years, Stith said, as it is now not only televised, but rebroadcast on Thanksgiving opposite the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
New floats this year will include one decorated with poinsettias and another in a silver-and-blue ‘‘Candy Land” theme, said Elizabeth Gallauresi, an event planner and regular volunteer with the parade. Discovery Communications is premiering a lion helium balloon that will join a version of Silver Spring’s unofficial mascot, a 50-foot inflatable penguin.
Manny Acta, manager for the Washington Nationals, will serve as the grand marshal.
The parade is sponsored by the county, Comcast, Discovery Communications, Downtown Silver Spring, Home Properties and The Gazette. It will be held rain or shine.
If you go
The Montgomery County Thanksgiving Parade will kick off 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Sligo and Georgia avenues. The procession will travel north from there on Georgia Avenue, turn right onto Ellsworth Drive and end on Fenton Street. The northbound lanes of Georgia Avenue, from East West Highway to Colesville Road will be closed 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. The parade will be broadcast live 10 a.m. to noon on News Channel 8. For more information, call 301-565-7300 or visit www.silverspringdowntown.com.
The Montgomery County Thanksgiving Parade is looking for volunteers age 10 and older to dress up in costume and ride on floats, act as unit leaders and handle balloons. Volunteers must be present 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, and should meet at the fire station at 8110 Georgia Ave. Parking is available at the public garage on Bonifant Street. Students may receive service hours. Call 301-565-7300.