Downtown Arlington Christmas History
Records show the first tree lighting at City Hall was in 1993. During the early years, one of the focuses was on how to bring Santa to town. Santa first came on a fire truck. In following years Santa arrived on a Longhorn steer, in a helicopter, rappelling off the roof of City Hall and in a sleigh. Every year, the City tried to come up with an exciting new way to bring the jolly ol’ guy to Arlington.
The first “downtown tree lighting” was not a parade, but rather a musical review staged on the steps of City Hall. Lynda Freeman was responsible for that first event. Lynda cried when the switch was thrown and the tree lights came on for the 1st time.
A musical review remained the Downtown Arlington Christmas tradition until the move toward a parade developed. Why a parade? – all the people who wanted to witness the tree lighting in the front of City Hall could not fit – the line of sight was too narrow. To try to solve the over crowding, event planners tried putting the Christmas tree in Gene Allen Park.
Downtown Inc. and Lana Wolff became actively involved. Mayor Odom rode from the Fire Station to Gene Allen Park to do the honors of lighting the tree. The event planners learned that the “little parade” caused quite an excitement among the crowd that the committee had not anticipated. Remarks like “is that all there is to this parade thing” caught the attention of event planners. Event planners took the cue from the crowd and vowed at that point to “do” a real parade the next year.
As a city employee, Lynda Freeman couldn’t be the one to orchestrate a community event, but she could encourage someone to do it and could coordinate the City’s help. So, Lynda went about looking for a parade chair and naturally turned toward the experts in town – the July 4th Parade Association – and managed to talk long term association member, Frances Foster, into taking the helm of the Downtown Arlington Christmas Parade.
Frances knew just about everything anyone needed to know about parades. Frances brought with her other members of the 4th of July Parade Association and had the assistance of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, together they started planning the particular aspects of the 2002 1st annual Arlington Christmas Parade. That first year was awesome! Those involved in the budding tradition were ecstatic!
2002 – The 1st annual Star-Telegram Parade of Light was chaired by Francis Foster.
University of Texas at Arlington students, Brandon Wheat and Misty Aguero, served as Grand Marshals for the parade. After the parade, Santa met children at the Arlington Museum of Art.
2003 – The 2nd annual Star-Telegram Parade of Lights was organized by Lynda Freeman and Faye Reeder. Arlington did not have an official Christmas tree lighting in 2003. The Fielder Museum hosted a tree lighting ceremony on a smaller scale.
Mattie Fielder Tolbert lit the Christmas tree at the Fielder House Museum’s 23rd annual ceremony. Tolbert’s grandparents, James Park and Mattie Barnes Fielder, built the Fielder House in 1914. Tolbert moved with her parents, Cicero and Rossa McNatt Fielder, into the house when she was just 5 weeks old.
The Fielder House Museum event included tours, a visit with Santa, a bake sale, hot cider, music and wagon rides down Abram Street through the gardens of the Hill Gilstrap offices.
After the Fielder House tree lighting ceremony, more than 40 entries lit up downtown Arlington during the city’s 2nd annual Parade of Lights. Before the parade got under way, spectators enjoyed listening to the Arlington Community Band that played at City Hall
Arlington seventh-grader, John Stokes, celebrated his 14th birthday as the Grand Marshal of the parade. Stokes survived a horrific accident in which he was struck by an SUV as he rode his bicycle along a sidewalk near Park Row Drive and Fielder Road.
City secretary at the time, Lynda Freeman, came up with the idea that John should serve as the honorary parade leader. She recognized that his poignant fight for survival and his parents’ strong faith made for a perfect match with a holiday celebration.
The parade featured more than 55 lighted entries- among them…The Barnett Junior High School Spirit Team, Children’s University cheerleaders, Boles Junior High School Step Team, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and players from the Creative Arts Theatre & School. Santa and John Stokes brought up the rear aboard a fire truck.
2004 – An estimated 4,500 people gathered for the 3rd annual Star-Telegram Festival and Parade of Lights, which featured nearly 60 parade entries, strolling carolers, and performances by local arts and cultural groups. Parade chairman was Paula Pierson. The Grand Marshal was General Motors. Festivities ended with a laser light show and the lighting of the Christmas tree.
2005 – The 4th annual Star-Telegram Parade of Lights chairmen were Don Duke and Gary Hardee. Grand Marshal to the 60+ entries was General Motors.
2006 – The 5th annual Star-Telegram Holiday Lights Parade chairmen were Don Duke and Joni Wilson. Grand Marshal to the 60+ entries was Mayor Cluck.
2007 – The 6th annual Star-Telegram Holiday Lights Parade chairmen were Don Duke, Lauren Tatum and Joni Wilson. Grand Marshalls to the 80+ entries were Dan and Linda Dipert.
2008 – The 7th annual Star-Telegram Holiday Lights Parade chairmen were Don Duke, Lauren Tatum and Joni Wilson. Grand Marshalls to the 80+ entries were Tillie and Bob Burgin.
2009 – The 8th annual Decorator’s Warehouse Holiday Lights Parade chairmen were Don Duke, Lauren Tatum and Joni Wilson. Grand Marshalls to the 80+ entries was Donald Huffines.
2010 – The 9th annual Decorator’s Warehouse Holiday Lights Parade chairmen were Don Duke, Lauren Tatum, and Joni Wilson. Grand Marshall to the 80+ entries was Jim Sunberg.
2011 – The 10th annual Decorator’s Warehouse Holiday Lights Parade chairmen were Don Duke and Joni Wilson. Grand Marshalls to the 90 entries were Zeke and Kathryn Wilemon.
2012 – The 11th annual Decorator’s Warehouse Holiday Lights Parade chairmen were Don Duke and Joni Wilson. Grand Marshall to the 90 entries was Officer Bryan Graham.
2013 – The 12th annual Decorator’s Warehouse Holiday Lights Parade chairmen were Don Duke and Joni Wilson. Grand Marshalls to the almost 100 entries were Bob & Keri Kembel.
2014 – The 13th annual Decorator’s Warehouse Holiday Lights Parade chairmen were Scott Reading and Elle Stubbs. Grand Marshall to the almost 100 entries was Dr. Marcelo Cavazos.
2015 – The 14th annual Decorator’s Warehouse Holiday Lights Parade chairmen were Scott Reading and Elle Stubbs. Grand Marshalls to the almost 100 entries were Don Duke and Joni Wilson.
The Arlington Holiday Lights Parade as it is now called (formerly The Parade of Lights) is no longer Arlington’s “next greatest tradition” it is a tradition! Family and friends have set up “camp” along the parade route enjoying hot chocolate, sounds of the season and time together. We hope you will make the parade a part of your holiday tradition for many years to come.