There’s a big change ahead for this year’s Lakeland Christmas Parade on Dec. 7.

The event, which has marked the official start of the holiday season for generations of Lakelanders, will follow a different and slightly longer route this year — going around Lake Morton instead of Lake Mirror.

The new route is the most significant change in the parade’s 42-year history, city Communications Director Kevin Cook confirmed. The detour was needed because of a three-month road closure at the intersection of East Orange Street and South Lake Avenue, where the 32-unit Orange Street Apartments are under construction. 

The roads are expected to remain blocked through Dec. 15.

Portions of East Orange Street and South Lake Avenue closed on Sept. 11 so underground utilities could be connected to the new Orange Street Apartments. The closures are expected to last until Dec. 15. | Cindy Glover, LkldNow

The parade is co-hosted by The Junior League of Greater Lakeland and the City of Lakeland and draws an estimated 50,000 people annually.

Festivities will begin with fireworks over Lake Mirror at 7 p.m. As the first starbursts light up the evening sky, marching bands and floats will set out from the north side of the RP Funding Center on Lemon Street.

As in years past, the parade will travel east on Lemon Street toward downtown, turning left on Tennessee Avenue and then right on Main Street. However this year, the parade will turn right — not left — at Massachusetts Avenue and proceed south to Lake Morton Drive.  

The parade will circle Lake Morton clockwise before exiting at Walnut Street and heading up Tennessee Avenue. At Orange Street, the parade will turn left and return to the RP Funding Center, where it will conclude. 

‘Please do not feed the swans’

The parade is one of Lakeland’s most popular events and city officials always admonish residents not to set out chairs before the day of the parade. This year, the city is also asking people not to feed the iconic swans that call Lake Morton home. 

“As this year’s parade route does include Lake Morton, please do not feed the swans during the parade,” Cook said in a news release. “Umbrellas or pop-up tents are not allowed along the grass around Lake Morton. There will be no street parking along Lake Morton Drive the day of the parade.”

The parade distance of 2.5 miles is a little bit longer than the usual 2.25 miles. The judges’ review stand will be on Main Street by the Terrace Hotel, as it has been in recent years.

Early parade chairs will be removed

Roads that are impacted by the parade route will close at 5 p.m. except for the portion of Lime Street between Florida Avenue and Lake Beulah Drive, which will close at 3 p.m.

“Once the parade passes, clean-up crews will immediately focus on the area around Lake Morton and then concentrate efforts on the rest of the parade route,” Cook said.

Fire Chief Doug Riley said he understands city residents’ eagerness to stake out a good vantage point to view the parade, but the city will remove or relocate any chairs that block sidewalks and crosswalks or hinder the use of disabled parking spaces.

Police Chief Sammy Taylor agreed, adding: “This causes a major hazard, especially for those in our community that use wheelchairs and walkers to get around.”

A sweet theme

The theme of this year’s parade is “Christmas in Candyland.” In its official rules, organizers said: “We sincerely hope you will join us in showing some of Lakeland’s sweetest features by decorating your float in the theme: candy, cakes, cookies or other sweet treats.”

Judges will award prizes 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
  • Judge’s choice

As always, the parade will end with Mr. and Mrs. Claus atop their sleigh.

The theme of the 2023 parade is “Christmas in Candyland.”

looking back at the 2022 parade

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Cindy Glover moved to Lakeland in 2021 after spending two decades in South Florida. She was a crime reporter, City Hall reporter and chief political writer for newspapers including the Albuquerque Journal and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. She spent a year as a community engagement coordinator for the City of Lakeland before joining LkldNow. Reach her at or 561-212-3429.

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