Ready for Christmas? It’s about to come marching down Hillsborough Street, so it’s probably a good time to embrace it, reluctantly or otherwise. I’ve marched in Raleigh’s parade about 10 times and sat as a spectator for about another 10. I think that qualifies me as an expert. With that in mind, I give you the best places to watch the “largest Christmas Parade between Washington, DC and Atlanta,” whatever that means:
In Front of St. Mary’s School
But wait, you thought the parade didn’t start until east of St. Mary’s Street? Exactly. You know how entertaining it is to watch people get ready to walk a parade route? Floats crammed up trying to avoid tiny dancers, band teachers yelling at disinterested trumpet players, little Y-Guides lacking port-a-potties and watering every tree on Hillsborough Street…it’s great stuff. You can see which local radio/TV personalities are actually good people and talk to the common folk while waiting and which ones act like they should have secret service detail. Obviously this is more of the show before the show so adjust your time plan accordingly.
On Hillsborough St between Harrington and Dawson
Ok, admittedly this is a bit of nostalgia on my part as this was where I viewed the parade as a kid, but let me make the case for it, practically speaking: much of the first few blocks of the parade are a rush as participants are ordered to keep the pace moving. This block is close enough to the Capitol that traffic starts to back up a little bit, meaning each act or float gets to spend just a little bit of time in front of you doing their thing. It’s not too densely packed so a good chance kids in the front will get to interact with parade participants. Plus if you drive up from the south side you can usually street park with a few blocks of here.
In Capitol Square at Salisbury/Hillsborough
This is the one you’ll have to camp out for, but for me it’s the premier parade position (good news: if you get there that early you should be able to park on the street at the opposite side of the Capitol on Wilmington or Edenton, or maybe even Salisbury). Some might like the view looking down Fayetteville Street, but the parade flow is moving away from you down Fayetteville instead of coming at you on Hillsborough. Here you’ve got the horns charging at you, then every group slows down and peacocks by you, making their turns around the Capitol. They’ll probably ask you not to sit on the statues, but I won’t. You won’t get on TV here, but you’ll have a better view than the cameras do. Speaking of which…..
The Parade is broadcast on WRAL-TV and WUNC from 10am to noon. If you don’t a) have small kids for whom the parade will be magical b) know someone in the parade or c) REALLY need some holiday cheer right now, this is not a terrible option. And to not sound like a total Grinch: it’s a good audio/visual backdrop for getting your house decorated (and/or cleaned up) for the impending holiday social season. It also re-airs Christmas morning and–if you DVR it–whenever you’d like. But all of these are a distant second to being….
In The Parade
If only once, everyone should enjoy the perspective of being cheered on while being IN a parade. This will sound silly and quaint but as a kid I was mesmerized marching in the parade–the same as running in the Great Raleigh Road Race–that I was walking on HILLSBOROUGH STREET (Fayetteville Street wasn’t used for the parade in the 80s and 90s because you couldn’t drive on it). This seemed like an enormous deal to me. As an adult it was still fun and a bit of a thrill to have friends and neighbors recognize you and call out. The Raleigh Christmas Parade has a number of groups that participate where members of the community walk with them. If it’s your goal to walk in the Parade once (and I think it’s a good one) it shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. Bonus points if you get in with a walk/ride option. It’s a long morning on your feet! But worth it. Doesn’t this look fun?