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A Christmas Luau
Christmas parade 1
Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy gets in the luau theme at the 44th annual Turlock Downtown Christmas Parade on Friday. The school float won the Youth Group division in the parade (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Thousands of people lined the streets of downtown Turlock on Friday night to take in the annual Christmas Parade with this year’s tropical luau theme.

“Lt. David Hall estimates 15,000 as a safe number,” Turlock Police Chief Jason Hedden said of the crowds, packed four and five deep at some spots along Main Street. “He was with the drone team monitoring from the air. Of course, that’s an estimate, but he had a good view of the crowds.”

Spectators began setting up folding chairs as early as Thursday.

Turlock’s Anne Snyder had a block of 10 folding chairs stationed at the intersection of East Main and North Denair Avenue.

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Dancers from Deborah Morgan Dance Studio entertain the crowd with holiday hula moves (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

“I set up these chairs just before 5 o’clock,” said Snyder, who has spent most of her life living in Turlock. “We’re not actually on a curb, we’re in the street, so I think that’s why they were still available then.”

Dawn Shakeshaft, another lifelong Turlock resident, didn’t bother to stake out a position and set up chairs. She and 7-year-old grandson Wyatt Shakeshaft-Cook just copped a squat on the curb.

“We just came to watch the parade and we’re just fine on the curb,” said Dawn. “He’s not going to sit in a chair anyway.”

Near the head of the parade, behind the Turlock City Council and other elected officials such as Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, state Assemblyman Juan Alanis (R-Modesto) and state Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil (D-Jackson), were the always-popular vintage tractors.

Leading the way this year was Dan Casale Jr., whose father passed away in October after a brief illness. Casale Jr. was pulling towing a riderless Farmall tractor in honor of his father.

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The Turlock Autism Group shows its Christmas cheer while “Lighting it up Blue” for autism awareness (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

“He was the one who got things started,” said Casale Jr., who grew up around tractors on a dairy. “He did this for about 15 years. Luckily, there was a lot of prep work so I didn’t have to think about it too much, but it was very disappointing because my generator would not function. We put a lot of work this, but it’s OK because we’ll get another chance next week in Denair.”

Four parade participants — city councilmembers Kevin Bixel and Cassandra Abram, Alanis, and Alvarado-Gil — were taking part in their first Christmas parade festivities.

All came away impressed.

“Even though I’m from Modesto … Turlock has the best Christmas parade,” admitted Alanis. “It was seven-deep all the way through. And it was good to connect and see people in the audience, as we’re going down the parade route, that I haven’t seen in months. This is where the hope comes from and, hopefully, the Christmas spirit will continue.”

Alvarado-Gil, despite working in a different chamber and being on the opposite of the aisle, has had a close working relationship with Alanis. She echoed his sentiments,

“I’ve never seen so many lights,” said Alvarado-Gil. “The city of Turlock came out fierce tonight. There were so many people and families and dogs. It was really amazing. It was so cold and people were still out there with their mittens and blankets and heaters. You could tell it was the highlight of the season.”

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Carlos Guerrero from the City of Turlock gets into the Christmas luau spirit during the parade (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Bixel, serving his first term as the city’s representative from District 1, has attended many Christmas parades, but never had the view he had Friday night.

“I’ve been coming to this parade for probably 25 years but I’ve never been from the beginning to the end,” said Bixel. “To see smiles on everybody’s faces and the kids having a blast … it’s just a little surprising how many people are actually here.”

Bixel said he heard one estimate put the crowd size at 30,000.

“It’s just so wonderful to see everybody come out and I love getting to wave and smile at the kids and to see everybody enjoying our community and our lovely downtown,” said Abram, serving her first term as the District 3 representative. “Just seeing the wall-to-wall people in the downtown core was so shocking, but so heartwarming to see everybody come out.”


44th Turlock Downtown Christmas Parade Winners

Antique Vehicle — Tejanos Auto Sales

Commercial — Alpha Electric

Equestrian — RD Ranch Productions

Christmas Luau Theme — Sacred Heart School and Preschool

Unique — Off Road Renegades

Youth Group — Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy