Backstage Memories from the First Children’s Holiday Parade

Children's Medical Center Holiday Parade "1989"

Editor’s note: This is an encore post of an article that first appeared on the Children’s Health Blog in 2013. Because the magic of the holiday season transcends time, it is as relevant today as it was then. Don’t miss our complete collection of Holiday 2014 info and feature articles, recipes, events and more.

Our 25th Annual Children’s Medical Center Holiday Parade Presented by Pizza Hut is on Saturday, Dec. 1. Before we celebrate this big milestone, we would like to share with you how it started. Betsy MacKay, who was our VP of Public Affairs for 15 years, was director of PR at The Adolphus when she and her colleagues there started the parade. She went on to a career at Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, all the while continuing to be involved in the parade. Ten years later, in 1998, Betsy joined Children’s officially. She will take you behind the scenes of that first year in today’s guest blog.

You have probably heard Children’s Holiday Parade referred to as “The Miracle on Commerce Street.” Although it may sound corny, I can tell you – after 25 years as a backstage eyewitness – miracles DO come true, and this parade really is one. In fact, more than one. Lots of big and little ones.

Beginning of the Parade "1989"

Beginning of the Children’s Holiday Parade “1989″

It was my great joy to serve as its director for that first amazing year.  I have more memories of that first year than perhaps any other because it was so hard. My extraordinary partner in public relations at The Adolphus, David Davis, and I had loads of naïve creativity and ambition for the event.

All we knew was The Adolphus and Children’s Medical Center were wonderful Dallas institutions celebrating their 75th anniversaries, and we had to make this event very good. We HAD to protect the reputations of those two great treasures.

We didn’t sleep at all the night before that first parade. The work seemed endless. I was bone tired but kept going and going, David at my side. My desk phone never stopped ringing with problem after problem (by the way, we didn’t have cell phones back then!).

Parade Morning

Giant Snowmen and their handlers during the 1989 Children's Holiday Parade

Giant snowmen and their handlers in the early hours before the Children’s Holiday Parade starts “1989″

Then the big day dawned, chilly and beautiful, like most of the 24 parades that have followed. I remember noise. People came. Lots of them. They were on the curbs in blankets, drinking hot chocolate and laughing. A vivid picture in my mind is of strollers by the thousands. Families huddled together in anticipation.

I had put down a crowd estimate of 35,000 on that first parade permit.  Lo and behold, the police said 75,000 came. Of course, now more than 350,000 people attend every year.

Band buses were coming in waves of yellow and we hadn’t arranged anywhere for them to park. It was sheer bedlam.  Strollers, horses, balloons, bands, drill teams – they were everywhere. What in the world had we done?? I was very scared and very excited.  This was BIG. It felt like a big, loud, beautiful MESS.

The Miracle

Yet, suddenly, it was 10 a.m. and out of the chaos, came the miracle. It worked. We got our very first parade down Commerce Street and lots and lots of people clapped and cheered and showed they liked it – a lot.

I cried out of absolute wonder and joy. I knew this was WAY bigger than little me and that something good was going to come of this. It was, indeed, a supernatural happening that has endured because… after all… miracles have a way of doing that.

If you’re a faithful parade-goer, we thank you! And, if you aren’t one (yet), we invite you to join the fun on Saturday. For more details you can visit

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One Response to Backstage Memories from the First Children’s Holiday Parade

  1. Curtis Ippolito November 29, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    What a cool inside look at the first year of the Children’s Holiday Parade. Thanks for sharing your story, Betsy, and thanks for giving the city of Dallas a landmark annual event!

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