For 25th year, horses and riders to kick off holiday season in Lawrence

Spectators line the street as the the Old Fashioned Christmas Parade heads south on Massachusetts Street on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016 in downtown Lawrence.

For a quarter-century, the holiday season in Lawrence has been announced by the sound of hooves and the sight of horses towing carriages down Massachusetts Street through a crowd of spectators.

This year will be the 25th edition of the Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade. The event will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2. The parade maintains its standard route down Massachusetts Street from Seventh to 13th streets before making its way through eastern Lawrence to the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

Marty Kennedy, a parade organizer, said the crowds have ranged from 10,000 to 25,000 people depending on the weather. Kennedy said paradegoers often tell him the event kicks off their holiday season.

“When they see all of the beautiful entries, it gets them into the spirit,” Kennedy said.

Organizer Patty Kennedy said she expects more than 100 entrants in the parade, with multiple riders coming from Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa. The parade is one of the few all-horse-drawn parades in the country.

Patty Kennedy credits the authenticity of the event as a major reason why it consistently draws in riders and spectators from across the region. She said organizers insist on entrants riding in original or accurate reproductions of old-time wagons.

“They don’t just bring in a hay wagon that’s got rubber tires,” Patty Kennedy said. “We’ve tried to keep it a traditional, old-fashioned parade.”

Patty Kennedy said the realism also translates to the volunteer riders, who are cowboys from cattle ranches across the country, helping with safety.

“It’s not just somebody that dresses up and wants to be in the parade,” she said. “That’s pretty amazing too because when you see them go by and you realize what a real cowboy looks like.”

Parade regulars include a group of riders dressed in the authentic Civil War-era uniforms of Buffalo Soldiers, an all-black regiment of the United State Army prior to integration of the armed forces.

Patty Kennedy said this year the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Massachusetts St., will have a lobby display detailing the history of the parade and how it has developed over the years.

The history lesson is tied back into the holiday spirit as Santa, who sometimes prefers horseback to sleigh, rides in as the parade’s finale.

The parade gives participants an opportunity to get in the giving spirit by donating to two charities. The Marine Corps Toys for Tots and the Lawrence Police Department Blue Santa programs will be accepting toy and monetary donations at Ninth and Massachusetts streets, in front of the US Bank Tower.