The City of Kannapolis Illuminates the Skies for Christmas

The City of Kannapolis Illuminates the Skies for Christmas

This year will be the 81st Annual Cannon Pharmacy Kannapolis Christmas Parade.  This parade is unique to Rowan County because it’s a night parade! All the 120 floats are illuminated with Christmas Lights that will be lighting up the Kannapolis skies on Saturday, December 14, 2019 starting at 6 p.m. on Dale Earnhardt Boulevard between Vance Street and Main Street. The parade route will eventually end on Laureate Way and the North Research Campus. This year you can expect lots of creative floats as in previous years! There will be four marching bands, also dressed in lights, in the parade this year to bring the Christmas spirit to your ears.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Annette Privette Keller, Director of Communications with the City of Kannapolis, and Becky Tolle, Recreation and Special Event Coordinator with the City of Kannapolis.  They both sat down with me to answer some questions that I had about the parade and let me know some important information that I outlined below.


The late Dale Earnhardt signing photos for fans during the parade.


What You Need to Know About the Kannapolis Parade

  • The Kannapolis Parade is sponsored by Cannon Pharmacy.
  • There is no candy thrown from the floats.
  • People can come out early and start saving a space for where they want to be for the parade that night.
  • There is no alcohol and no pets.
  • There will be four food vendors! One on Main Street, one on Vance, and two on Laureate Way.
  • The new Cannon Ballers Baseball Team will be in the parade.
  • This is a rain or shine event.  (Maybe it will snow!)
  • And, as always, bringing in the rear of the parade will be Jolly Old Saint Nick!

Once the parade ends Santa will be making his way to Village Park to the Winterland Express and the Celebration of Lights!

Kids making memories and enjoying the festivities.


The Winterland Express

If you haven’t been to Winterland Express, you deserve to treat yourself!  You can ride the train that celebrates the 12 Days of Christmas during the holidays, the double carousel, see the Singing Bears, see the lights, and visit Santa!  Pictures with Santa are free so be prepared to take a selfie! You will be able to find crafts, food vendors, games, and school choirs singing on Monday and Tuesday nights with shows at 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 7 p.m. Most of the activities are free with the exception of the train and carousel which are $2 per person per ride!  The rides are handicap accessible as well.

While you are taking in the festivities, be sure to stop in at the Village Park Program room to see the Atlantic Coast S. Gaugers’s interactive model train!  It’s a popular display that will be open Wednesday through Sunday nights for everyone to enjoy! 


Take a ride on the Winterland Express!


Lots of Visitors and Hard Work

Annette Privette Keller told me that “66,000 visitors rode the carousel in 2018”, and, during the month of December, they had “20,000 visitors ride the carousel in that month alone.” While you are at the park you will magically enjoy snow being blown to really give you the feel of the holidays!

According to Becky Tolle, “the planning starts almost as soon as the parade is over!” I told her I knew it was a lot of work and she said, “once the event starts it’s great to step back and watch the people and the joy on their faces! That alone makes it all worth the work!”

The Kannapolis Parade, the Winterland Express, and the Celebration of Lights all sound so wonderful and are perfect for every one of all ages to enjoy!  If you want more information you can visit www.kannapolisnc.gov or call (704) 920-4343 and they will be happy to answer any questions.


Kids enjoying the Celebrations of Lights. 


History of Kannapolis Parades

After meeting with the ladies at the City of Kannapolis, my curiosity set in as to how long the Kannapolis parades had been at night.  I also wanted to know a little more about the parades many years back when they started. 

I found myself getting in touch with Ed Robinette with the Kannapolis History Associates. If you ever have any questions about the City of Kannapolis, I highly recommend that you give them a call at (704) 932-7518 or stop by to visit their association that is currently located on the A.L. Brown High School Campus. Ed was extremely helpful, giving me information from old newspaper clippings about the Kannapolis parades over the years.

According to newspaper clippings, the Kannapolis Parade started in 1938 with only two bands and a Santa float! That year, they had 8,000 people attend the parade. When everyone saw what a hit the parade was the first year, they decided to make it even bigger, and in 1939 they had 60 floats and over 35,000 came to watch the parade. That must have been some kind of parade back then! I love history, so I was interested to hear about what else they had information on about the parades.

Here’s what else I learned:

  • November 23, 1940 the Christmas Parade started at 5 p.m. I asked my phone about that date, and I was told that was on a Saturday.
  • 1941: The Christmas parade had the North Carolina State Guard in the parade, and over 6,000 students participated.
  • 1946: The biggest parade since the war! The Daily Independent Newspaper stated this was the Greatest Parade in Cabarrus, Rowan, or Iredell Counties. They had two elephants in the parade that year.
  • 1950’s: There was a float that was in the parade for multiple years and it was called “The Possum Float” and was sponsored by Patterson Superett in Midway. The float had gentlemen from a hunting club on board along with their hunting dogs and live possums in trees on the float. While today that would be quite controversial, back then people looked forward to seeing them each year. People said you could hear those dogs barking well in advance of them making their appearance along the parade route. My understanding is that none of the possums were ever hurt and they were all set free to go back into their habitat and live out their days happily in the woods around Midway.


Look closely to see possums spotted in the trees.


Changing the Parade from Day to Night  

I wanted to know about the night parades.  I had asked a couple of people including my daughter, Victoria Jolly, who is a graduate of A.L. Brown High School, if she remembered the night parades. She remembered that they were during the school week because they got out of school early for the parade.  I asked my friend, Rene Hammon and her daughters Stephanie Bissette and Jennifer Garcia (both A.L. Brown graduates) if they remembered the night parades. Rene remembered having to put lights on a Santa hat one time. Stephanie said, “they were all during the day and that night parades started after she graduated.” Jennifer said she remembered marching at night in one parade.

“It was always exciting and I always looked forward to the parade every year.  I remember thinking it was really fun to sit on the sidewalks with no cars driving by in the busy intersection where Table Supply Grocery was located.  It was like a big birthday party. The marching bands were always my favorite!”, said Jennifer.


Kids having fun making s’mores!


I asked Ed Robinette to help me figure out when night parades started in Kannapolis.  According to what was found in the clippings, he said the night parades have been going on since 2003 and they were always on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  In 2007, the night parade was changed to being on the second Saturday in December which is where we find the night parades in Kannapolis to this day.

My last question to Ed was about his childhood memories of the Kannapolis Christmas Parades and he said he sure did remember them.  “My dad worked at the post office in Kannapolis and on parade day he took me and my brother Clyde to work with him.  We thought it was a big deal because we could go behind the “Employees Only” door!  When dad finished work, we would leave the post office to go watch the parade!  It was a big deal!”


The Celebration of Lights.


It was an interesting journey for me to learn about the Kannapolis parades, and I hope you will go and enjoy the parade this year as well.  Mark your calendars now and make plans to attend this great, and different, night time event!  Kannapolis is definitely going to be a bright spot in Rowan County for the Christmas Holidays!  Just like Ed said… it’s a big deal! 


About The Author

Janet Ruffin

I’m an adventurous soul that loves to interact with people everywhere I go. You might say I’ve never met a stranger! I look forward to discovering and sharing all the things Rowan County has to offer because it’s Your Rowan!