Annual Christmas Parade returns to Lakeland to kickoff the holiday season

From holiday tunes to tinsel and garland, the annual Christmas parade brought so much joy to thousands in Lakeland on Thursday.

The city allowed attendees to set up their chairs along the route through the downtown area on the morning of the event, with the parade kicking off with fireworks and floats at 7 p.m. 

Some attendees shared where they think are the best viewing areas. 

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"Anywhere you can find a seat. Anywhere you can camp actually is a good spot for the parade," said Maria Wakelin of Lakeland.

Others shared their usual location.

"For sure over at the Joinery, but they changed the map this year," said Nicole Neumann of Lakeland.

The parade route was different for Thursday’s event because of construction impacting Orange Street, making parade goers rethink their usual spots.

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"We had planned on going all the way around Lake Morton where the coveted swans of Lakeland are, and we decided not to so that because of the logistics and the cost of putting fencing around the lake," said Kevin Cook, the director of communications for the City of Lakeland.

But that didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the festive fun.

"I was born and raised in Lakeland, so we’ve been coming my whole life," said Neuman, who brought her children along to pass on the tradition. "It’s been great just to see their smiles and joy. It’s amazing."

Others shared what they were looking forward to this holiday season.

"Being together that’s what I’m looking forward to. Family time, much needed family time," said Ashlee Hockett of Lakeland.

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The city estimates around 50,000 people lined the streets for the floats, trailers and marching bands. The parade theme this year was "Christmas in Candyland."

A few locals who attended said one aspect of the parade always stands out.  

"Obviously, Santa Claus at the very end, but otherwise all the bands and the music, the people, the churches. It’s just wonderful, just joy all the way around," said John Wakelin of Lakeland.

The city said the parade is the start of holiday events in town.

"We have the Christmas parade. We have the snow fest this weekend. We have the jingle bell jog next weekend, so it’s really to kick off the holidays here for the city of Lakeland," said Cook.