Thousands of people are expected to converge on downtown Lakeland on Thursday evening for the spectacle of the annual Christmas parade and fireworks.

What: 42nd Lakeland Christmas Parade

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, beginning with fireworks over Lake Mirror

Where: RP Funding Center and back via Lake Mirror. Check the route map above.

Route change: There’s a slight route change this year near Munn Park. As the parade heads east on Main Street, it will turn left onto Kentucky Avenue along Munn Park; in the past the parade continued east on Main and then turned left onto Massachusetts Avenue. This map shows the new route in red and the old route in blue:

Who: 100 units, including floats and marching bands; as many as 50,000 spectators have attended in the past. Sponsor: Junior League of Greater Lakeland

Theme: Christmas Past, Present and Future

Watch It Live:, Facebook Live, Spectrum 643, FiOS 43, or Comcast Channel 5 (PGTV).

Last year: An estimated 50,000 attended. View video of the entire parade or check our photo gallery.

Chairs: Spectators are asked to refrain from placing chairs along the route until Thursday. The city of Lakeland warns that “chairs, tape, blankets and other materials used to save viewing spaces will be removed if placed in public right-of-way before the day of the parade.”

If placing chairs on Thursday morning or afternoon, do not block sidewalks, entrances or ADA ramps or place chairs in wheelchair accessible seating areas, or your chairs may be removed. 

Streets/parking:  Streets along the parade route will begin closing at 3:30 p.m. Public parking is available on open, non-parade-route streets, in public lots and parking garages (map). Tips from experienced parade-goers to avoid the inevitable traffic jams at the end of the parade:

  • Avoid downtown garages.
  • Seek parking spots several blocks from the parade.
  • Remember that you cannot cross the parade route during the event, so plan your parking accordingly if you plan to leave early.

Accessibility: Wheelchair-accessible viewing areas are on both sides of Main Street near the Lakeland Fire Department HQ. Parking for vehicles with disability permits is available in the Rose Street Parking Lot.

Toilets: Portajons are marked in blue on the map.

Food vendor locations:

  • Munn Park (southeast corner)
  • Parking Lot M at Massachussetts and Cedar
  • Future parking lot just east of The Joinery
  • Small pavers area near Lakeland Fire Department
  • Lake Mirror Center parking lot
  • Brick-and-mortar downtown restaurants

Length: From the time the floats get to your location, the parade typically lasts about an hour and a half.

Security: LPD typically has 150 officers on duty at the parade.

Awards are given in eight categories: most outstanding band, most original float, best professional float, best youth or educational float, best community float, best business float, best theme float and judge’s choice.

Marriage vows: A wedding will be held on the float sponsored by Polk County Wedding & Event Pros, a nonprofit organization. Joy Richter, a nurse, and Eric Daniel, a teacher, part-time actor and retired Polk County deputy, were selected by the organization for a free wedding, News Channel 8 reported. They hope to time it so that the vows are exchanged in front of the judges’ stand near The Joinery.

End of the parade: Santa and Mrs. Claus atop a sleigh float

Traffic: Lots. Expect delays getting home.

ALSO: LakelandMom publishes an excellent family-friendly guide to the Christmas parade with lots of tips for parade-goers. See it here.

Santa and Mrs. Claus at the 2021 parade | David Dickey Jr., LkldNow

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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