1. Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic
The oldest African-American parade in the country is sponsored by the Chicago Defender Charities and celebrates its 79th year on August 9. The procession steps off on Martin Luther King Drive and culminates with a picnic in Washington Park. About 75,000 marchers, including bands, dance teams, and military groups, as well as 160 floats and vehicles, make up the parade, while 1.2 million viewers line the route and 25 million more catch it on TV.
2. Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association transforms one of Chicago’s most iconic streets into a winter wonderland each year for the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. The event includes live music, food, and a Mickey Mouse-led parade down Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to Wacker Drive. It draws more than 900,000 locals and visitors and is aired nationally on ABC. The 2008 kickoff is scheduled for November 22.
3. St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Thousands of locals and visitors flock to this event, one of the country’s longest-running St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Many paradegoers arrive early to the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive to see the Chicago River dyed green. The 2008 parade was held on March 15 and was televised nationwide on WGN. The Chicago Journeymen Plumbers sponsored the event, and Eileen Kapolnek served as parade queen.
4. South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade
This has been a staple in Chicago’s Beverly/Morgan Park community for 29 years. The 2008 parade on March 9 kicked things off with a preparty in Merrionette Park, where locals enjoyed food, drinks, and live entertainment. The St. Patrick’s Day celebration began with Irish music, followed by a parade Mass at St. Cajetan Church. The parade ran along Western Avenue from 103rd Street to 115th Street and entertained nearly 100,000 people.
5. Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade
Chicago’s gay pride month culminates with the second-largest pride parade in the country, drawing more than 400,000 viewers and participants. On June 29, more than 250 floats and groups gathered on the corner of Halsted Street and Belmont Avenue in Boystown. The event is produced by PRIDEChicago.
6. Thanksgiving Parade
More than 300,000 people turn up for Chicago’s Thanksgiving Parade, now in its 75th year. Produced by Chicago Festivals and sponsored by McDonald’s, the parade features balloons as tall as 50 feet, including characters such as Popeye, Big Bird, and Cookie Monster. One of only three events of its kind to be televised in its entirety, last year’s parade reached just under two million viewers nationwide. The event kicks off at 8:30 a.m. on State Street and runs from Congress Parkway to Randolph Street.
7. Mexican Independence Day Parade
Last year more than 300,000 locals and visitors paraded along Columbus Drive from Balbo Drive to Monroe Street in celebration of Mexican Independence Day. Produced by the Mexican Civic Society of Illinois, the parade has been an important part of celebrating Mexican heritage in Chicago since 1969. Floats inspired by historical events, folkloric dance groups, and local student marching bands all take part. The 2008 parade is scheduled for September 6.
8. Puerto Rican Parade
June 14 marked Chicago’s 43rd annual incarnation of this celebration of Puerto Rican heritage. The parade lasted about two hours, but the festivities went on for six days. This year’s theme was “Puerto Ricans Reaching New Heights” and commemorated accomplished Puerto Rican descendants. About 150,000 participants were expected to attend.
9. Columbus Day Parade
October 13 will mark the 2008 Columbus Day Parade, which has been produced by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans for nearly half a century. Parade participants meet at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii for church services, followed by a wreath-laying ceremony in Arrigo Park. The parade route follows Columbus Drive from Balbo Drive to Monroe Street, and is led by Mayor Richard Daley and Governor Rod Blagojevich. The parade consists of more than 150 floats, as well as bands and marching units from various government and military organizations.
10. Chicagoland Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade
This holiday season motorcycle parade has collected gifts for the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program for more than 30 years. This year’s procession takes place on December 7 with a 6 a.m. lineup at Dan Ryan Woods. The group winds its way north on Western Avenue, ending at the Marine Corps Reserve Center. The entire route is about 20 miles. Approximately 25,000 bikers take part.
11. Memorial Day Parade
The nonprofit Norwood Park Memorial Association was formed in the 1970s to produce Chicago’s Memorial Day Parade. For this year’s festivities on May 26, World War II veteran Raymond Gurga served as grand marshal. A short ceremony took place at the Vietnam Memorial at Railway Gardens. Participants then headed south to the Taft Plaza for a patriotic program and flag raising.