Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade, Saturday, November 14th, 2009

A retrospective! That's super-secret blogger code for "it was three or four days ago", but let's not dwell on semantics. These recaps usually tend to serve mainly as historical documents, anyway, as I am constantly reminded by the bizarrely high traffic on my Video Games Live review alone.

Yes, this past Saturday saw the centennial edition of the Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade -- technically the "Power Smart / JCI Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade", but no way am I typing that out any more than I need to. So, for the sake of reasonable brevity -- because I took a lot of pictures, narrowed it down to still a lot of pictures, and then took forever trying to write something for everything -- I'd like to give you folks a nice short-form summary of some high- and lowlights of the event.

Good Entries:

A whole crapload of lights in a variety of colours and patterns, with a festive animal thrown in somewhere, is a good start. You know what would be better, though? More lights, and a bigger animal.

See? Moving up in the world already. But what if we could also make the entire vehicle out of fake gingerbread?

Okay, that's just awesome. Fake gingerbread is apparently also easy to come across, because a couple other parade entries also made good use of it.

This was the vehicle accompanying the Beavers, Cubs and Scouts, and they have a cute sense of humour if nothing else. The legs were actually mechanized to be kicking the whole time, which made it much funnier than the still image would indicate -- so you'll just have to take my word for it.

And this one made me smile, not only for its aesthetic charm, but for its surprisingly subtle marketing component. (If you looked at this and asked "what subtle component?", well, that's why it's subtle.) You see, this is actually the RE/MAX entry -- just showin' a festive take on a couple of people finding just the right home for themselves -- and the only way you could know that it was RE/MAX is because of that comparatively tiny sign being held up by one of the gingerbread people. As a fine-details kind of guy, I couldn't help but appreciate that.

In a similar vein, this is a pretty impressive arrangement of lights by itself, but do you know what I liked best of all about it?

If you guessed "the hat that the driver is wearing", award yourself full marks.

Isn't it great to picture him just wearing that all the time? That's what I'd do with a hat like that, and I can't even be bothered to lie and say I wouldn't.

Bringing out live reindeer is a very impressive gesture, and I can vouch for this because one guy behind me sounded very, very impressed. He blurted out, and this is a direct quote, "Hooo-leeeeeeeeee. Real reindeer."

Also impressive: throwing people. Whee!

Say what you will about HOT 103, but they know how to grab your attention. Can't accuse them of skimping on the promotional budget, that's for sure! And this float was definitely a hit, although of course it helped that it was immediately following a long trail of local politicians who got almost zero crowd response.

This one was almost the best mixed-media float in the parade, though falling just short is not for lack of effort. The fire in that chimney is actually a flat-screen TV, which means the smoke coming out of the chimney raises more questions than answers. But a TV, a smoke machine, some lights, some reasonably nice furniture, a tree, and a gigantic novelty inflatable fire extinguisher? You can't tell them they weren't being creative.

And then these guys eventually showed up and I was briefly excited, because maybe there's a Life of Brian stage play being put on or something. That would rule! Stwike him, Centuwion! Stwike him vewy woughly! Yeah!


Well, even still, I think this was my favourite entry of the whole parade. Not for content, oh goodness no, the religious mythology behind Christmas makes me itch. But the delivery! What you miss from the still images is that this was, of all things, a live drama performance -- and I do mean 'live', because the actors were legitimately mic'ed up and performing their lines as the float rolled along.

So one of the retainers starts off talking, addressing us the audience as much as his seated King (which I guess is sort of the point of drama, but humour me), and he goes like "My liege! There is word that over Bethlehem is a star -- and this star has heralded a King! A King of Kings!" Or whatever, right, I'm paraphrasing. But then the King stands up, and he plays this role like he was specifically born to be the biggest, most hilarious jerk in the entire universe.

"Pah!" (All good drama is buffered by the word 'pah'.) "Don't you know that there is only one King? I! King Herod!"

At this point I was like "Yeah! Tell 'em, King!" but otherwise the proclamation was met with disinterest.

The King continued, regardless, sarcastically announcing "Find him for me! So that I too may go and worship him!" And then he let out this hilarious, awesome BWA HA HA HA HA HA HA in case you missed the part where he's a villain.

This Bethlehelm Live affair is apparently an interactive Jesus-birth re-enactment tour, done quite faithfully with respect to the original story, and really that's just too bad. Wouldn't it be great, just once, to see an alternate ending to one of these things where the Christ child gets tossed into a volcano like the end of Tekken 2 or something?

Man, it's a good thing I don't write Fringe Festival plays.

Moving on!

Bad Entries:

Here, according to the Power Smart / JCI Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade Official Rulebook, is how to make a Santa Claus Parade entry.

1) Take your company vehicle.
2) Put as few lights on it as possible.

Congratulations. You're a float.

You, too. Good hustle.

This one is a little better, I'll grant, but look at the soul-crushingly miserable body language of the accompanying pedestrian. If you think that they could have tried harder with this entry, you're apparently not alone!

There were a whole series of vans in rapid succession that looked like this, at about the midway point of the parade, but their austerity was actually quite well justified.

This was the Christmas Cheer Board segment of the show, you see, and a cadre of volunteers solicited donations by running alongside these vans with their reusable bags (pictured above) in hopes that people would throw some money at them. You ever watch a show on PBS where they stop the program for a while to talk about how great the program is and then ask you to send some money? This was like watching a live-action reenactment of the process.

And it was still better than endless advertisement campaigns debating "carriage fees" and "value for signal" and "TV taxes", but we can talk about that another time.

This isn't a parade-specific picture, per se, but I happened to notice this banner hanging from the Avenue Building as I arrived and I was struck by how defeatist the text reads in my head. "Do you have any ideas? Because basically we've got nothing, pretty much."

Poor, poor Avenue Building.

Mind you, say what you will about Winnipeg, but it definitely has a character all its own. I was in Calgary for the Stampede this year and took in their annual parade -- all three hours of it -- and I saw a lot of unexpected floats, even including an inventive multi-segment entry for their city library system. I can definitely say, though, with one hundred per cent certainty, that they didn't have anything like this.

You know, people who aren't from here always seem to think I make stuff like this up.

WTF-Worthy Entries:

I'll level with you -- I enjoy the well-crafted floats and costumes, and I appreciate the effort (where evident) of those entries that may not be as high quality, but what I really love about parades is always the stuff that makes you stop and stare for a second like you aren't sure if reality is just messing with you. So here's to you, you questionable decisionmakers!

To begin with: what?

This was spotted amidst a ringette team, or at least a bunch of people wearing jerseys that say "RINGETTE" on them, so I guess it could be a ringette... ring? They use those, right? I wouldn't necessarily base a mascot off of some plain-ass equipment, but I'll grant that I am not necessarily an expert in Mascotology.

It's no looser an association than anything else here, though; in fact, things just get progressively stranger from here on out.

When you think the Armed Forces of Canada, they know what you're thinking: an inflatable-looking motorboat containing a Christmas tree and what appears to be a portable toilet.

Or let's start with the end product, and work our way backwards: what do you think these are?

Your inevitable poop jokes are appreciated, but incorrect. The correct answer is, apparently, "Girl Guide Cookies".

Yeah, really. Context is kind of a fickle mistress, isn't she?

In the interest of context I'll note that this otherworldly creature marched ahead of the Boeing float, so I assume that this is theirs, but... but what is it? The top half is a polar bear in medical scrubs, the bottom half is pyjamas, and then it's wearing a tassled aeroplane around its waist.

It's just... this is... I don't... I don't even know. Let's just move on.

Things that make you go 'augh': Power Smart's big marketing mascot this year -- along with the ever-popular Louie the Lightning Bug -- is "Electrosaurus", a green dinosaur in a backwards baseball cap who does some totally radical shredding on his skateboard. Apparently Manitoba Hydro laid out directions for their marketing department by pointing at 1990 and saying "do that".

Get with the times, Power Smart! Kids these days just don't listen to what y'er tellin' them unless you can deliver it to 'em on their gol-danged mobile phones (TEXT 'HYDRO' TO FIVE-FOUR-FIVE-FIVE-FIVE) to show 'em celebrities like Lady Gaga getting electrocuted or something.

The mascot of the Winnipeg Free Press is, apparently, just a big ol' copy of the Winnipeg Free Press. Good thing the parade wasn't on a Sunday, or he wouldn't have shown up at all!

(Ha! Ba-zing! Oh, man, I couldn't resist that one.)

This... wait, what? Who are these people, and where did a church get the budget for all this? And why is their website frighteningly glossy, like they're trying to sell me jewellery? Something seems amiss here.

Things just get really complicated when people try and bring religion into Christmas, I've noticed.

Okay, honest question. Do you ever look down at your plate of delicious perogies and think about what one would look like if it wore festive ethnic garb, maybe with some lipstick on it as well so you would know that it's also a woman?

The particularly strange thing about this costume is that it was accompanied by the flag you see behind it, and nothing else. It had no obvious or stated connection to the parade entry before or after it. It was just there.

Above all else, and with everything taken into account, there was one human being in particular that I felt tremendous sympathy for:

That is the shrug of a man who has given up on life. There's really no two ways about it. There is bottom, and then there is rock bottom, and then there is dressing up as a Blue Loonie.

Anyway, it was a lovely parade, and my compliments to the organizers for putting it together and bringing plenty of people downtown. And I do mean plenty, because this was the scene as the event concluded:

I dare say that this is a little bit more hustle and bustle than you normally see around the area. And post-parade festivities were being conducted down at The Forks, so The Forks basically went from zero to everybody in the span of a few minutes. I've got long legs, so I walk quickly, and I got there to be greeted by this sight:

Then I went inside, used the bathroom, and came back outside to this.

Surprise! I dare say, at the risk of sounding repetitive, that this is a little more hustle and bustle than you normally see around the area.

A festive, holiday-themed dance routine ensued, so I elected to go inside and look for food. And that ended up taking a while, because--

--the entirety of the Forks looked like this. The line for mini-donuts actually went all the way around the mini-donut place, to give you an idea of the atmosphere. But I did eventually get some food, and the evening concluded the way any good evening should conclude: with festive, decorative explosions.

Huzzah for fireworks!

Ha ha, I take four days to write about a two-hour event, I'm a champion. Thanks for reading, everyone!


Rockin Ronnie said...

Good day from Ron Mark, Winnipeg Santa Parade Manager ( I too will take the shorter title route).

What a fantastic job of covering this year's 100th anniversary Parade. Your insightful, balanced and, at times, cuttingly humourous commentary and great pics truly capture a lot of the spirit of the event.

I will be checking back to this site often to see what is being covered.


Jenny said...

James, it was worth the wait. I really feel like I was there.

The idea of the Christmas play being performed *live* from a moving flatbed is still killing me.

Ken said...

Hey there! I'm one of the organizers of the float that had the drama on it. I'm so glad you included us in with your "good" floats! We knew that doing a skit on a float was a bit outside the box, but we simply wanted to offer people a taste of what the Bethlehem Live event is actually like. It has plenty of drama and is interactive. And it's a lot of fun. And thanks for commenting on it on your blog. Your writing style is plenty of fun too, and given how good you are at verbally poking at things, I was grateful that we didn't end up in your "bad" category!

Ken said...

Hi again James. I'm a little puzzled by your comment under the Springs Church float where you said "Things just get really complicated when people try and bring religion into Christmas". You may be right, depending on a person's response to the religious origins of Christmas. But they don't have to get complicated. The simple truth is that there was no Christmas before Christ, and there's nothing complicated about that. Though for many people, it does get kind of complicated when Christ Jesus grows up, claims to be God and then invites people to respond. But the good news is that it's a lot less complicated when we realize he's not inviting us to a religion but simply to relationship with him!

Ken said...

Better yet, why not check out Bethlehem Live and see how simple it can be! Details are at

Anonymous said...

""Things just get really complicated when people try and bring religion into Christmas"."

Yogi Bera could have said that!

Anonymous said...

Parade was boring yet again. Who organuizes this thing anyway?

snarky Joe said...

I watched the parade at the Forks where the floats all turned in to the parking lot. Hey guess what? Santa's float was too big for the bridge. So several hundred people -- including a whole lot of little kids -- didn't get to see Santa.

This was the hundredth annual parade; you'd think someone would've figured that one out.