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Image: Bailiwick Studios

Image: Bailiwick Studios

The annual Art Van Santa Parade will return to Grand Rapids on Saturday, November 19, with lots of familiar fun and some new twists.

This year’s theme is “Christmas Fun for Everyone,” which will be woven throughout the many costumes and decorations that will make their way through downtown. Over 100 entries are expected to participate in the parade, including a capstone appearance from Santa Claus himself.

“Downtown Grand Rapids will be filled with the sweet sounds of local marching bands, carolers, and local performers,” reads the event’s web page. “Entrants for the 2016 event will create unique entries around the theme, including costumes, music and floats based on popular and classic holiday songs.”

The parade will begin at 9 a.m., and will run along Monroe Avenue NW beginning at Michigan Street. The ceremonies will pass by DeVos Place, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, and the Rosa Parks Circle before ending near Charley’s Crab at Fulton Street.

The Santa Parade is a time-honored tradition in Grand Rapids, dating back to the late 1800s; it began as a way to encourage residents to start their holiday shopping in the downtown area. This year, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss will serve as Grand Marshal, and Nashville singer-songwriter Jacob Davis will also provide entertainment.

One of the highlights every year, for marchers and viewers alike, is the participation of dogs in the parade. Around 46.3 million American households have dogs, and an estimated 63% of them buy Christmas presents for their pups, too. This year, some 70 corgis and their owners will march in the parade, helping to raise awareness for Paws with a Cause, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that trains service dogs for people with disabilities.

The entire parade is organized by the Grand Rapids Jaycees and sponsored by ArtVan, as well as several other community organizations. The iconic Santa sleigh provided by the Jaycees last year, with a full team of reindeer riding over a snow-covered replica of the Blue Bridge, will make a return appearance. After the parade, families can get complimentary photos taken with Santa Claus in Rosa Parks Circle.

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