Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore on Saturday evening stood on stage, dressed in a festive Christmas suit, leading a crowd in singing holiday hits and calling up kids to help him belt out the tunes.
But soon, the songs were drowned out by sirens and the sound of a 350-member marching band making its way through downtown Kokomo as part of the city’s Old Fashioned Christmas Parade.
For the first time in decades, the city brought back the parade that had been a beloved holiday tradition in Kokomo for years. And residents showed up in droves to watch and enjoy the festivities.
Santas, snowmen, Grinches and characters from famous Christmas movies made their way through the streets, where they eventually passed by the stage colorful holiday displays surrounding the Howard County Courthouse.
A Johnson Towing truck tricked out in lights with a Grinch riding in back drove by the crowds lining the streets. That was followed by a Crossroads Community Church float packed with misfit toys from the movie “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
“We love our misfit toys,” Moore shouted from stage. “Thank you for all you do!”
A massive inflatable snowman sat on back of trailer hauled by Moore Title and Escrow. People on the float threw fake snowballs at the mayor before someone dressed as Buddy the Elf jumped on stage to steal the show.
But the most impressive sight was the huge marching band made up of students from all five county high schools. The group stretched down the street playing brassy, jazzed-up Christmas tunes that echoed around the courthouse square.
Moore called the all-county band “unprecedented” and said, for him, it was the most heart-touching thing in the parade.
“It’s not one school,” he said to the crowd. “It’s not two schools. It’s all five schools. I love it. This is what tonight is all about.”
After the parade, families could ride on a motorized train or go see Santa on the courthouse lawn and then write him a letter in the lobby of Crossroads Community Church.
Johna Pearson was waiting with her young son, Easton, to get inside Santa’s house. Easton said he was going to ask for dinosaurs, but made sure to specify they had to be girl dinosaurs wearing lipstick.
“It looks so nice downtown,” Pearson said. “I love when they do stuff like this. It brings a lot of people out.”
Inside the church, Khris and Sarah Means were with their two kids, Leylah and Khristopher Jr., writing letters to Santa. Leylah asked for a puppy. Just to make sure Santa didn’t miss it, Kristopher Jr. wrote on the outside of his envelope “My favorite thing is the Nintendo Switch.”
Sarah said their family just recently moved to Kokomo, and loved the fact that the city had a Christmas parade.
“The family was thrilled to know we had an opportunity for the parade in town, and we really enjoyed it,” she said.
We Care Park Founder Mike Wyant rode one of the floats. He said afterwards he’s been in a lot of parades, but this one was the best he’s ever seen.
“This was awesome tonight,” he said. “I was just honored to be in that parade. I just thought it was so great, and I think all the people liked it as well. We had a heck of a crowd.”
Moore said it felt good to see such a large turnout for the return of the once-beloved Old Fashioned Christmas Parade, especially considering they’ve been planning it since early 2020. The event was supposed to be held last year, but was forced to cancel due to the pandemic.
“There’s still a lot of anxiousness leading into the holidays with the virus, and folks are still struggling, so hopefully the parade let us pause during all of that and brought the community together,” he said.
Moore said the city hopes to keep the parade going for years to come. And in a way, he said, it all worked out, considering last year saw the end of We Care Park, which was the city’s most iconic holiday tradition.
“Whether you want to call it fate or divine intervention, we did have to cancel the parade last year, but it was the last year for We Care Park and the community could rally behind that,” he said. “Now, hopefully the parade is going to become a fun downtown tradition.”