Editorial: Will Christmas parade be saved?

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

While it may never be as popular as Lawrence’s most iconic greeting — Rock Chalk, Jayhawk — the greeting of Merry Christmas ought to have special meaning in Lawrence. After all, Lawrence is one of the most important cities in America when it comes to creating Christmas spirit.

What, you didn’t know that? Many people know that Lawrence is home to a Hallmark production plant near the Kansas Turnpike. Fewer people comprehend how major a plant it is for Kansas City-based Hallmark. A spokesman in 2017 told me the Lawrence plant produced about 70 percent of all the greeting cards made by Hallmark. Hallmark is still the king when it comes to greeting cards, so it is safe to say Lawrence has to at least be in the running for making more Christmas cards than any other city in the country.

Lawrence: The Christmas Card Capital of America.

Yes, we are aware that the calendar still says spring, but the thought comes to mind because of sad news about another Lawrence Christmas tradition. The annual Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade — the downtown spectacle that features only horse-drawn carriages and wagons — is in jeopardy of ending after this year’s event in December. The parade has been a holiday tradition for 27 years and attracts thousands to downtown on the first Saturday in December.

The parade has been a volunteer effort, and can be a sizable one. It has about a $70,000 budget that it has to fundraise for, and organizing more than 100 horses, riders and wagons is quite an exercise in organization and coordination. The parade is suffering from the same condition that afflicts so many good causes. No one gets paid to put this parade on. People put in the work because it makes their hearts feel good. But, even good hearts get tired.

Organizers have said they are tired and need a break, and thus far a younger group hasn’t stepped forward to take the reins. This isn’t to chastise anyone for that situation. It is not a sin to lack the energy to tackle every good idea. It may be that this fine tradition will come to an end, and we’ll all be left with the fond memories.

But it does seem appropriate to raise the idea that Lawrence perhaps has the ingredients to produce a really special Christmas season event. We have one of the most unusual parades in America. We have an increasingly rare Norman Rockwell-esque downtown. We have a city crew that does an exceedingly good job of creating a holiday light display. And, we have a true connection to an iconic company that maybe has done as much to create Christmas spirit as any in the world.

Is there a synergy here? At this point Hallmark executives may be checking their wallets to see who is trying to get into them. Yes, such an event probably would need a corporate sponsor and the money that comes with it. And, no, Hallmark certainly doesn’t owe that to Lawrence. If anything, Lawrence owes Hallmark. It is a great employer and has been since opening the Lawrence plant in 1958. The company has provided not just jobs but careers for thousands of Lawrence residents over the decades.

But it still is fun to think about maybe a monthlong celebration that has several highlights, like the parade, special performances at the Lied Center and maybe some fine exhibitions culled from the collections of Hallmark.

If a group does gather to try to save the parade — the convention and visitors bureau has mentioned trying to convene such a group — there would be no harm in trying to think big about how Lawrence could produce holiday cheer and provide a meaningful boost to our tourism industry. The idea may die there, and that would be fine.

In that case we would all just have two things left to do: Mark Dec. 7 on our calendars to attend perhaps the last parade, and thank everyone who has been a part of it — the organizers, the horse owners, the businesses who have supported the efforts for the many years.

As they say, it has been a great ride.


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