The first Christmas Parade was held in the mid 1930’s and was planned by a merchant’s division of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce. In those days the parade proceeded down Magnolia Avenue and circled the downtown square. Little is known of the event until the late 1940’s. In the 1940’s, Christmas festivities included a goodwill tour of about 23 communities to spread the news of Ocala’s Christmas festival.
In the 1950’s, the Parade had grown considerably and by 1959 had 182 units – the largest number of units paraded in Ocala’s history. During the 1960’s, a number of other events were added, including the Sunshine Christmas Bowl Game, a beauty contest, square dancing and home decorating contests – all of these events became a part of what was to be known as the Sunshine Christmas Festival.
During the 1970’s, many of the events were dropped because of the limited size of the Christmas Parade committee. This allowed the committee to concentrate on the Parade itself. The Reindeer Run was added as the opening event of the parade and organized by the Ocala Runners Club and continues to this day.
The 1980’s saw the creation of the Children’s Parade two weeks before the main parade to allow youngsters under the age of 10 to march around the downtown square. This event is now part of the City of Ocala’s Light Up Ocala event. In 1987, the star attraction for the Parade was the appearance of Walt Disney’s Mickey and Minnie Mouse due to the opening of the Disney Welcome Center in Ocala. Other special attractions have included the appearance of the Anheuser Busch famous Clydesdale eight horse hitch.
In 2003, the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce decided that they no longer wished to produce the parade. The Friends of the Christmas Parade, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization was formed and organized by all the members of the original Chamber’s Christmas Parade Committee. The Friends of the Christmas Parade have continued to improve and fine-tune the largest night time parade in the State of Florida while giving back to the community with allocations to Ocala/Marion County youth organizations.