Annual Christmas parade Dec. 5: All the fun, without the 76 trombones, elephant poo and flaming torches

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Professor Harold Hill will probably disagree, but I believe it’s quite possible to have a ”big parade” without 76 trombones. I say this in spite of the fact that I once sat in the balcony of the State Theater and watched four consecutive showings – that’s 11 hours – of “The Music Man.”

Of course, it wasn’t so much that I enjoyed the movie. It was because I was 12 years old and I had my actual arm around the shoulder of Gail Hutchinson – there was talk of amputation at one point – so perhaps I wasn’t giving ”The Music Man” my fullest attention.

Anyway, my point is that you don’t necessarily need 76 trombones to have a big parade in Manchester. That will be proven on December 5 when Intown Manchester holds its annual Christmas parade at 4 p.m. It will step-off from the Brady Sullivan Tower on North Elm Street and follow the traditional route down Elm Street where it will end at Veterans Park.

(Of course, a perfect warm-up for the event would be a free visit to the Millyard Museum where your kids can visit with Santa from 10-11 a.m. – free photo op, mind you! – while you shop to your heart’s content buying local products in our gift shop, but I digress.)

Parades have always taken on a festive air in Manchester, including this one (headed north, incidentally) on Elm Street. (Manchester Historic Association Photo)
Parades have always taken on a festive air in Manchester, including this one (headed north, incidentally) on Elm Street. (Manchester Historic Association Photo)

I like to think local parades began long ago, maybe with our Native American ancestors dancing along the banks of the Merrimack River in a delightfully spontaneous pagan parade, innocently celebrating important tribal events like the invention of fish.

Then Puritanical white settlers were delivered unto the city, settlers with severely repressed names like Chastity and Penance, whose idea of a good time was wearing very tight shoes or kneeling on wooden rods. Naturally, these stern settlers frowned upon improvisational expressions of joy, so they entrusted parade organization to the militia, after which parades took on all the spontaneity of Republican campaign rallies run by Dick Cheney.

Eventually, things loosened up, and by the 1800s, Elm Street became home to many joyful processions like the circus parade. Everybody loved the circus parade. Except the street cleaners.

It was never a happy day for the street cleaners when the circus parade made its way down Elm Street.
It was never a happy day for the street cleaners when the circus parade made its way down Elm Street.

The circus parade was a great public relations vehicle for the circus, sure, but it was the street cleaners who had to gather the steaming mounds of public relations material left behind by the circus elephants, if you get my drift.

Thus, they were not exactly thrilled when the Barnum & London Circus came to Manchester on July 9, 1884 because that circus featured Jumbo the Elephant, and as you might imagine, he was called Jumbo for a very good reason. I believe the Highway Department was unionized shortly thereafter.

Another popular parade of that era was the political torchlight parade on Elm Street. I am not making this up.

One such celebration in this pyromaniacal tradition can be traced to 1888 when 200 members of the Tippecanoe Club of Manchester – Republicans backing Benjamin Harrison – paraded down Elm Street one night wearing tall white hats and long white coats while holding torches overhead.

This charming tradition was traceable to William Henry Harrison’s Presidential campaign of 1840, which spawned the memorable political slogan, ”Tippecanoe and Tyler Too (Or We Burn Down Your House and Set Fire To Your Dog).” I imagine it to be a lot like the heart-warming scene where the villagers go off in search of the Frankenstein monster.

Anyway, this flaming procession was a nightly fixture for weeks before the election in 1888, culminating on the night of Oct. 23, when 51 units of Republicans paraded down Elm Street carrying torches. Alderman Dan O’Neil would have broken out in hives.

Personally, I’m intrigued by the quaint custom of the torchlight parade, and I’d like to encourage all of you to help revitalize this traditional spectacle, but if I did, I know that Fire Chief Jamie Burkush would issue side arms to his men with orders that I be shot on sight, so never mind.

In time, Democrats got their shot at running a parade. As recent developments on the political front would indicate, they run parades better than campaigns. Never was this more evident than on Nov. 11, 1933, when Manchester played host to the Great NRA Parade of 1933.

Not that NRA. I’m referring to the other NRA. Frank D. Roosevelt’s NRA. The National Recovery Act.

The parade included 15,000 marchers, 40 bands and 131 floats – no elephants – to celebrate both Armistice Day and Roosevelt’s Depression suppression program. One reporter called it ”a kaleidoscopic demonstration” of ”unestimable size,” demonstrating faith in our national leaders and reverence for veterans.

The NRA Parade took two hours and seven minutes to complete, and while that is impressive, it’s still not good enough to top Your Hit Parade of parades. That honor goes to the city’s 100th birthday parade on Oct. 12, 1946, a centennial celebration that took two hours and 40 minutes to complete, although they may have dragged their feet on purpose just to get the record.

Not counting private conga lines around private swimming pools, Manchester has hosted hundreds of parades in the intervening 69 years, and if eating chicken tenders at the Puritan Backroom is one qualifying test for citizenship in these parts, so too is participation in an Elm Street parade.

Yes, it all starts on Saturday, December 5 at 4 p.m., and even if they won’t see 76 trombones, the kids will surely get a kick out of seeing Santa, which is not to overlook Grand Marshall Nick Willard. And who knows? Maybe Chief Willard can arrange for the Manchester Police Department’s Mounted Horse Patrol to take part in the parade.

Everybody will love that.

Except maybe the guys at the Highway Department.

If you get my drift…


John Clayton


John Clayton is Executive Director of the Manchester Historic Association. You can reach him with your historical (or existential) questions at



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Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!