Written by By J.E. Skeeley, CNN Los Angeles, California
When most people think of the Santa Claus Parade, they imagine small, white-bearded men in heavy coats — grooming, men’s caps and all.
At least that’s what’s shown on most Santa Claus costumes at malls, as they’d be more than 500 years old by now, hadn’t it been dropped by time and purpose.
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But a much broader Santa Claus tradition has been building for two decades across the plains of Oklahoma, and the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. There he marches solemnly, smiling, holding out a massive sack of presents, hundreds of miles away from the Muppet City holiday down below.
Formed in 1986, the Santa Claus Parade is a down-home, tradition-friendly christmas tradition modeled on Mayan festivals — rather than pagan manifestations of the same — and serves as the longest-running mausoleum parade in the world.
Since its launch, the Santa Claus Parade has increasingly, dramatically expanded to include a thriving college student body, a Santa’s Workshop where elves get a break from Santa’s workload, and a Mardi Gras-style St. Louis carnival.
The parade began in 1986 with just one vehicle, and 54,000 spectators. Today, it can attract a million spectators, for 16 floats, 1,000 clowns, and 2,000-plus performers.