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Monday
Dec242018

A Holidazzle History

Article by Michael Rainville, Jr.

The holiday season in Downtown Minneapolis is a magical time of year. Colorful lights line the streets, the shops and restaurants play Christmas music, and the familiar jingle of Salvation Army bell ringers can be heard throughout the skyway system. There are many ways to celebrate this time of year, and one of the most fun ways to do so is attending the Holidazzle. It’s hard to imagine a holiday season without the joy and good tidings that fill the city when the Holidazzle takes place every year.

In the grand scheme of things, the Holidazzle is rather new. In the summer of 1992 a group of businesses in Downtown Minneapolis were worried that the small national recession the year earlier, combined with the opening of the Mall of America coming up in October, would be disastrous for them during the holiday shopping season. A plan needed to be made to keep shoppers in Downtown. Brookfield Development and Dayton’s each put down $200,000 to get things started, and when the City of Minneapolis saw this ambition, they contributed $1,000,000.

The Circus Train float   Photo: midwestliving.wordpress.com

As different ideas were being tossed around, they finally settled on hosting a parade. Inspired by the daily extravagant parades at Walt Disney World, the new Holidazzle parade would run four nights a week from the Friday after Thanksgiving to Christmas along Nicollet Mall, which oddly enough was made to counter the opening of the Southdale Mall. The first year saw only eight floats, but it was an instant success. Shops were full, the sidewalks were packed, and everyone was happy.

The City would also advertise other events going on during this time that would make coming into town worth your while, like these first-year events such as the Guthrie Theater’s A Christmas Carol, Sesame Street Live at the Target Center, the Lovely Liebowitz Sisters’ A Krakatoa Holiday music show, and Puss in Boots at the Dayton’s 8th Floor Auditorium. Metro Transit also offered the “Holidazzle Express” for those who didn’t want to deal with busy downtown driving. The shuttle service went from five metro Park & Ride locations, Brooklyn Park, Minnetonka, Richfield, South Minneapolis, and St. Paul, to Downtown Minneapolis. The parade became so popular it even made an appearance in the all-time classic Twin Cities Christmas movie Jingle All the Way when Arnold Schwarzenegger participated in a fictionalized version of the parade.

Michael Rainville, Jr. (left) in the circus seal costume with a friend.

The eight floats in the parade quickly grew to twelve, and the parade featured over 350,000 lights and 300 volunteers in costumes. For the 2000 edition, an almost 6-year-old Michael Jr. had the opportunity to sit next to Santa in his sleigh one night as he closed out the parade. However, little Michael was far too nervous to sit next to such a legend and ended up watching the parade from the sidelines with his parents. It was scary, okay? I did get my redemption the next week though. My father, Michael Sr., learned from his past mistake and this time pulled some strings to get two spots for myself and my friend Josiah to be seals in the Circus Train float. It took us about ten minutes to fit the costume over our bulky winter jackets and snow pants, but we had the time of our life and even made friends with the elephant and giraffe.

Fireworks over Loring Park Photo: Holidazzle website

In 2013, the organizers announced the biggest change the Holidazzle has seen when they decided to discontinue the parade and instead host a European-esque holiday village in Peavey Plaza. The Holidazzle Village would have live music, fireworks, great food, and vendors from around the world. Fortunately, the big change did not jeopardize the Holidazzle and they eventually moved to the even more spacious Loring Park.

From a magical holiday light parade to a festive village, the Holidazzle has been a Minneapolis and Twin Cites staple. While it has evolved over time, it has brought holiday cheer to the Twin Cities for almost thirty years, and hopefully many more. Happy holidays!

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About Michael Rainville, Jr.

A 6th generation Minneapolitan, Michael Rainville Jr. received his B.A. in History from the University of St. Thomas, and is currently enrolled in their M.A. in Art History and Certificate in Museum Studies programs.

Michael is also a lead guide at Mobile Entertainment LLC, giving Segway tours of the Minneapolis riverfront for 6+ years.

He can be reached at mrainvillejr@comcast.net.

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