Organizers of the Bakersfield Christmas Parade have been a bit too busy to have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads — as they work overtime to make sure all is ready for the big event on Thursday.

This year's parade begins at 6:30 p.m. at the intersection of 22nd and L streets in the city's downtown district. With scores of volunteers to assign; sanitation, cleanup and security services to confirm; and vendors to schedule, planning the annual extravaganza is always about making lists and checking them twice.

The parade includes 17 marching bands, including the Bakersfield College drumline, and more than 40 floats.

Watch for jolly old St. Nick in his bright shining sleigh, light displays, drill teams, horse-drawn carriages, community groups, classic vehicles and live performances by local youths.

But first, let's get one thing straight. The 35th annual Bakersfield Christmas Parade is not actually the 35th. That number is much higher.

"There was a break, a number of years the parade was not held," said Cathy Butler, executive director of the Downtown Bakersfield Development Corp., the nonprofit arm of the Downtown Business Association.

Butler is not sure about the dates, but she believes the parade fell by the wayside in 1974 and was finally revived in 1983, making this year's parade the 35th since the event was reborn.

Butler has been involved in one way or another ever since.

Indeed, anyone involved in their high school marching band in the 1960s or early 1970s remembers the parade once dominated Chester Avenue, with bands marching and floats rolling beneath the underpass just south of Truxtun Avenue.

"There were cracked heads," Butler recalled.

Yes, some apparently chose to drop things from the overhead crossing. Another problem? The parade was sometimes seen as a hindrance to business by nearby restaurant owners and other retail outlets. The route was adjusted several times as a result.

But the current route, which runs mostly on 21st and 20th streets has been great, Butler said.

"I always called it the Bakersfield Christmas Parade Spectacular," recalled former Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall, who has been involved as a sponsor and as a volunteer for many years.

"I established the first Bakersfield Christmas Parade committee," Hall recalled. "That great group of people helped me for 15 years."

Back then, the committee had about 25 people, most of whom came back year after year. These day's that number is closer to 10.

Hall emphasized how important it is for local businesses and individuals to help sponsor the annual parade. And he said volunteers on the committee are also important to maintaining the excellence of this community event.

"All you have to do is ride in the parade and see the enthusiasm and smiles and happiness on the faces of the people who come out to enjoy it with their families," he said. "I get such a kick out of it."

This year's parade falls on Pearl Harbor Day, so organizers decided on a theme of "A Patriotic Christmas." This year's parade grand marshal is Pearl Harbor survivor Robert Cunningham, who was in the Navy and at Pearl Harbor, in a ship that was lashed to the USS Arizona when it was hit.

Watch for a separate story about Cunningham later this week.

For Hall, whose support for the community spans decades, the parade remains an event that helps bring the community together. And in a world where division is all too common, such a tradition should not be taken for granted.

"We are stronger together," Hall said. "Every person there sees the value in it."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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