After 5 Decades the Historic and Legendary Watts/Willowbrook Christmas Parade Says Goodbye
(WATTS-L.A.) – For the first time since the winter of 1964, outside of a pandemic caused pause, residents of Watts community and surrounding neighborhoods will not line the streets of Central Avenue between 104th and 109th streets to welcome in the Holiday season. The historic and legendary Watts/Willowbrook Christmas Parade will not return in 2021 for what would have been its 55th year. Paula Aliewine, head of the Edna Aliewine Foundation and daughter of the parade’s creator and co-founder the late Edna Aliewine made the announcement. “It is always difficult to say goodbye to someone or something that has been a major part of your life for as long as you can remember. When the loses are closely related it is even tougher. Such is the case with having to announce the end of the Watts/Willowbrook Christmas Parade, co-created by my mother over 5 decades ago. The Parade had made its way to 55 years and the family foundation has decided to retire it due to factors beyond our control,” Aliewine said.
“We pray the legacy of optimism, joy, hope and perseverance left behind by the parade will continue in the minds, hearts and actions of the hundreds-of-thousands in the black community who attended this unique holiday celebration through the years,” she said. The parade’s legacy is made possible by the late co-founder, Edna Aliewine, a nationally renowned Watts Community Activist. Partly motivated by memories of her visits to the Hollywood Christmas Parade as a child and asking her father “why isn’t there anybody like me in the parade?,” she and a handful of volunteers raised a meager budget and created the Watts Christmas Parade in 1964. Aliewine is also the co-creator of the Watts Walk of Fame and devoted herself to “creating focal points of civic pride” in the community. The parade never missed a beat at being a point of pride for the neglected and underserved community of Watts. Even after the civil unrest of 1965 painted Watts as a violent and dangerous environment, the Watts/Willowbrook Christmas Parade disproved that stereotype by conducting a non-violent gathering of thousands of people in the middle of the revolt’s ground zero of the revolt just months before. And it remained a safe haven through the years.
As the parade grew in stature it became the official kick-off for the Christmas Season in the black community attracting a variety of participants ranging from high school bands , drill teams, ROTC, and drum lines from as far away as Pasadena, to car clubs, motorcycle clubs, folkloric dancers to celebrities, healtheducation-welfare agencies, and public dignitaries. Celebrities including the “World’s Greatest Entertainer” Sammy Davis, Jr., The Jackson 5, actor/activist Jim Brown, sportscaster Jim Hill, singer Brenda Holloway, R/B group the Sylvers and more, often rode floats or served as Grand Marshalls There was also the honoring of the Watts/Willowbrook Christmas Parade Queen and a pre-parade breakfast where individuals were presented with the Edna Aliewine Award for “Outstanding Work in the Watts Community”.
“Perhaps some organizations or individuals are interested in doing a similar event,” Aliewine said. “It might not have the continuum created by it’s predecessor but, if it happens, at least it won’t have to rely on setting a precedent.
That has been done and we are thankful for the opportunity to have offered this holiday gift to our community for so many years and grateful for the memories and legacy left to cherish.”