Hansen: Parades reveal O.C. cities' character

Hansen: Parades reveal O.C. cities' character
The Sawdust Art and Craft Festival participants marched along Park Avenue during the 51st Annual Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade. (Susan Hoffman)

There are two types of parades: those that focus on a single cause and those that don't. The those that don't are always more interesting because they are randomly fun.

They are the ones that have clowns and cowboys and out-of-town marching bands. They have waving dignitaries perched on convertibles and earnest nonprofits handing out earnest informational fliers.


Children line the streets waiting for hard candy, horses and furry costumes.

These annual community parades somehow fill a cultural hole. It's as if it takes a year for a city to slowly disconnect, and the parade is the Elmer's glue that patches people together like a rough-hewn human tapestry.


Orange County has 34 official cities, and 18 of them have annual parades. That's 18 examples of hyper-local personality.

A member of the 501st Rebel Legion parades in a Storm Trooper costume during the Anaheim Halloween Parade in 2015.
A member of the 501st Rebel Legion parades in a Storm Trooper costume during the Anaheim Halloween Parade in 2015. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Despite the assumption that the O.C. is a uniform sea of suburbia, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Garden Grove Strawberry Festival Parade is different from the La Habra Corn Festival Parade. Strawberries vs. corn … duh.

Even cities that are next to each other — and have parades on the same weekend — are different. The Dana Point Festival of Whales Parade always has a save-the-ocean theme for its weekend-long event, while the Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade, despite its patriotic name, is a catch-as-catch-can parade that lets just about anyone in — as long as there is flair and preferably glitter.

Each city's parade reflects its culture and history.

The oldest parade is believed to have started in 1904 as part of the Huntington Beach Fourth of July celebration. The city wasn't even incorporated until 1909, so the event was organized by real estate promoters wanting to attract investors.

Another unusual early parade started four years later in Newport Beach. Yes, the Christmas Boat Parade. While it's not your traditional parade down Main Street, you have to admit it's pretty cool and in a class by itself.

According to historians, John Scarpa, "an obscure Italian gondolier," and Joseph Beek, a developer trying to promote Balboa Island, started the tradition on July 4, 1908, with nine vessels illuminated by Japanese lanterns led by Scarpa's gondola.

Like many community parades and festivals, it wasn't until after World War II that it really took off.

The only other documented pre-World War II parade in Orange County is the Anaheim Halloween Parade. Every other parade started after 1945.

According to organizers, the Anaheim parade was first held on Oct. 30, 1924. Some 20,000 people gathered on Center Street to watch a 45-minute procession led by baseball superstars Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson.

"Halloween has held special magic for the people of Anaheim," according to the website "A nighttime pageant of ghosts, goblins, jack-o'-lanterns, and witches stretching a mile and a half through the darkened streets of downtown, the annual Anaheim Halloween Parade has become a Southern California family favorite."

While Anaheim trends toward the theatrical, Tustin, which started its Tiller Days festival in 1957, gives a nod to the city's agricultural roots.

San Juan Capistrano started the Swallows Day Parade in 1958, and as the name suggests, it honors the migratory birds.

Placentia started its parade and festival in 1964 primarily as a way to help nonprofits raise money.

Surprisingly, Santa Ana, despite being one of the oldest cities in the county, has only had a consistent annual parade since 1979, the Fiestas Patrias Parade. That was the same year Seal Beach started its Christmas parade.

Rounding out the list of O.C. cities, Westminster started its Tet Parade in the early 1980s. Fullerton's Founders Parade started in 1983, and newer cities like Lake Forest and Laguna Niguel began community parades in the 1990s.

Villa Park's parade is interesting. The city has a Christmas festival that includes a boat parade on dry land.

Regardless of the theme, city parades are almost always quirky and memorable. If only in some small way, there is usually an experience that sticks with you.

The look on the face of the young child who is simply thrown a piece of candy. It's that easy.

The care of the clowns, not wanting to have anything out of character.

The discipline with which the bands play their music.

Maybe our connectedness is rooted in these reminders. We belong because others show us their humility and pride.

They show us the way, one step at a time.


The cities and their parades

Westminster Little Saigon Tet Parade, started 1980, held Feb. 4, 2017

Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade, started 1967, held March 4, 2017

Dana Point Festival of Whales, started 1972, held March 4, 2017

San Juan Capistrano Swallows Day Parade, started 1958, held March 25, 2017

Garden Grove Strawberry Festival and parade, started 1959, held May 28, 2017

Fountain Valley anniversary parade, started 1957, held June 24, 2017

Huntington Beach Fourth of July parade, started 1904, held July 4, 2017

Lake Forest Fourth of July parade, started 1991, held July 4, 2017

La Habra Corn Festival parade, started1948, held early August

Santa Ana Fiestas Patrias, started 1979, held September

Fullerton Founders Day Parade, started 1983, held late September

Tustin Tiller Days and parade, started 1957, held late September

Placentia Heritage Festival, started 1964, held early October

Anaheim Halloween parade, started 1924, held Oct. 28, 2017

Laguna Niguel Holiday Parade, started 1999, held Dec. 9, 2017

Seal Beach Christmas Parade, started 1979, held early December

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, started 1908, held mid-December

Villa Park Santa Tour and Boat Parade, started 1998, held mid-December

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at