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Marching through the decades
Downtown Christmas Parade creators named Grand Marshalls
christmas parade 1
Wakefield Elementary School second grade teacher Sonia Montanez hangs lights on the school’s float in preparation for Friday’s Downtown Christmas Parade (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Thousands of Turlock residents and visitors alike have flocked to the city’s downtown streets in December for decades now, eager to revel in the holiday splendor that is the annual Christmas Parade — a tradition set to celebrate its 40th anniversary on Friday.

With a fitting theme of “Rolling Through the Decades,” the parade will help kick off the holiday season in Turlock with music, lights and festive floats entered into the celebration by local businesses, groups and families. The annual procession of holiday cheer down Main Street first began in 1978 and wouldn’t have been possible without the two Turlock leaders serving as the Grand Marshalls of the 2018 parade: Sharon Silva and Abe Rojas.

sharon silva
Downtown Christmas Parade co-creator Sharon Silva will serve as Grand Marshall to Friday’s holiday tradition.

The pair will ride at the front of the parade, giving fans of the holiday tradition the chance to thank Silva and Rojas for all they did to bring a parade to Turlock in the late 1970s.

“I didn’t even know anyone would remember that we started this in my living room all those years ago,” Silva said. “To have been recognized, I’m very honored. It’s always been a part of me that I felt was important to the city.”

“It’s quite an honor and I appreciate it,” Rojas said. “You do a lot of things and you don’t do it for recognition, you just do it as a community service. When we first got the parade started again it was a spur of the moment thing, but it came together and turned out to be really successful.”

Silva is well known as the Turlock Chamber of Commerce’s former president and CEO, as well as the head of the Turlock Downtown Association, where she spearheaded a campaign to revitalize the downtown area. In 1978, Silva was working with Turlock’s youth, including cheerleaders, Junior Miss participants, rodeo queens and Boy Scouts — all of whom received yearly recognition in the town’s rodeo parade.

Abe Rojas
Downtown Christmas Parade co-creator Abe Rojas will serve as Grand Marshall to Friday’s holiday tradition.

After that parade came to an end, Silva reached out to Rojas, who at the time was director of Turlock’s Parks and Recreation Department, to see about having a Christmas parade so that the kids could continue to see the spotlight.

“I said, ‘Abe, we need to do a parade for these kids,’ and that’s what we did,” Silva said.

Turlock’s first Christmas Parade was put together in about two weeks, with a committee meeting at Silva’s house to do the planning. The first six years of the parade were run out of Silva’s home office, she said.

“We just said, ‘Let’s try it, let’s shoot for it,’” Rojas said. “From there, I think it just grew and has become quite a symbol within the community.”

Since its inception, the parade has grown from a small, community event into an event with close to 100 float entries annually and visitors from all over the Valley. Both Rojas and Silva were never expecting the spectacle to become the Turlock Christmas staple it serves as today, but can’t say they’re surprised.

“Anybody that knows me or Abe knows that if we get something on our mind, we get everyone together and make it happen,” Silva said.

“Sometimes things that are planned at the last minute turn out to be the best,” Rojas laughed.

The 40th annual Downtown Christmas Parade will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. The parade will travel Historic Main Street beginning at Canal Drive and traveling west to Broadway before ending at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. Drivers can expect downtown road closures on the day of the parade starting at 1 p.m.