There aren’t a ton of nighttime Christmas parades in North Carolina, and there are very few (if any) that are larger than the one in Sanford.

The Sanford Christmas Parade, presented by the Central Carolina Jaycees, returns along its downtown Sanford route on Dec. 5, with those first sirens going off at 7 p.m. The massive parade — featuring marching bands, festival queens, floats and vehicles manned by local businesses, and Santa Claus himself — is an annual event that takes nearly the entire year to plan, according to Gina Guerrero, now entering her 10th year running the show.

“It really starts in February and March with lining up floats for our sponsors, filing the paperwork for road closures with the city and DOT, working on our lineup and making sure nearby residents and businesses know what’s coming,” says Guerrero. “There’s just so much that goes into it, and we’re working on these things up to the very last minute.”

For example, Guerrero and her team sent out an important safety update to all participants just a week before this year’s parade. In response to the tragic end of Raleigh’s Christmas parade on Nov. 19 — where a truck pulling a large float lost its brakes and drifted into a group of young dancers marching ahead, killing one 11-year-old girl — the Jaycees are requiring all vehicles to provide their latest inspection report. They’re also limiting the number of riders on a vehicle or float at 18 and prohibiting any marchers from being placed directly in front of vehicles pulling floats.

“Everybody seems to understand the new rules, and we’ve received no negative feedback,” Guerrero says. “We’ve talked to the dance companies, too, and I think everybody’s aware of what happened and that safety is our biggest priority that night.”

The Sanford Christmas Parade is a tradition that began in the 1960s, making it the state’s longest-running nighttime parade, though it hasn’t gone without its own tragedies and cancellations in that stretch. The 2016 parade was cut short when two teenage boys were shot and injured by a young man outside of a grocery store on Wicker Street along the route about an hour into the event. Several parade goers heard the shots and began to flee the scene, causing “moments of chaos” for some.

Four years later, the parade was canceled altogether because of the COVID pandemic. It made a triumphant return last year, and this year’s event hopes to build on that success.

Guerrero says her favorite thing about the parade is that it brings the community together. For one night, people of all walks of life are gathered in one place celebrating everything they’re involved in.

“Whether it’s your dance group, your band, your karate groups, the queens who won their titles and get to wear their crowns while riding in a fancy car — this is a celebration of all that and a huge family event,” she says. “You might be a concrete family, and this is your chance to get your family out to wave to the crowd and see their friends. I know the kids love it, but there are many, many adults out there who look forward to this every year.”

Her personal favorite part of the parade is when 7 p.m. hits. Those 10 to 11 months of planning are officially over, and Guerrero and her organizers can finally enjoy the moment and not have to worry about planning at least for the next 60 days.

“We always stand on the corner of Tryon and Wicker [at the start of the route], and we get to see it all go by,” she says. “To see the kids’ faces and the participants having fun, it’s just a great experience. As much work as we put into it, once it starts and we get to be spectators, it’s just one of the best experiences I know.”

Parade Sponsors

Yearlong sponsor
Elite Storage
Main sponsor
Triple Pointe Dance Academy
Wilkinson Chevrolet Cadillac Buick GMC
Fonda Lupita
First Health of the Carolinas
Pilgrims Pride
ERA Strother Real Estate
Prime Time Dance Academy
Media sponsors
Central Carolina Hospital
Isenhour Pest Control
NC Department of Commerce
Parade friends
West Lee Middle School
American Legion