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Craig Smith

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association.

Santa made about as grand an entrance as possible at last Saturday’s Napa Christmas parade.

He rode high and tall, holding the reins of four flying reindeer, while smoke billowed out of the chimney of his house. No one watching doubted if Santa was real.

Santa used to make his parade entrance in a fire truck or convertible. Eight years ago, Robbie Azevedo and his father mounted the passenger part of an old coupe onto a flatbed, adorned it with garland, and Santa had a new ride.

Six years ago, Steve Pierce from the Executive Room Barbershop, with help from his dad Tom, took over Santa’s ride. They built a house around the sleigh and covered it with lights, and added the flying reindeer.

This year, Jimmy Duhig added a professional’s touch to the lighting plus the smoking chimney. As they have for years, students from the Vintage High School performing arts dance department accompanied Santa along the parade route.

The Christmas parade was a city of Napa organized affair until the mid 1990s. The Downtown Napa Association was asked to run the parade in 1997, and has been doing so ever since.

The parade originally started at 11 a.m., attracting hundreds of onlookers. In 2003, Barbara Wiggins, owner of Mustard Seed Clothing Company, volunteered to chair the parade committee – on the condition that it start at 5 p.m., thus giving participants the chance to illuminate their entries.

Napans were encouraged to build and light floats, and for that matter, anything they could think of – cars, children, pets – whatever. The community responded in ways that even Wiggins couldn’t have expected.

The parade started to grow beyond the ability of the limited Downtown Napa Association staff to manage, when out of nowhere, parishioners from The Father’s House asked if they could help by cleaning up after the event.

For years, they formed a broom and dustpan-bearing line, following Santa while cleaning the streets to spotless.

Six years ago, at another critical growth juncture, the Kiwanis Club of Napa pitched in with more than 25 volunteers, handling everything from parade set-up, to judging, to crowd control; also contributing money towards prizes.

To say that the parade couldn’t happen with the Kiwanians isn’t a platitude, it’s a fact. The parade now has more than 60 entries every year, and attracts thousands of watchers.

The Kiwanis judges award three cash prizes of $500 every year.

This year, the Vintage High marching band won for best music. Bell Products won for best theme based entry, and the Monticello Water Ski Club won for best use of lights. If you were there, you know that all three were deserving winners.

The Downtown Napa Association has thoroughly enjoyed hosting the parade for all these years, and offers heartfelt thanks to all the partners who made it possible.

See you downtown!

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Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association and also the author of “Lies That Bind – How Do You Arrest Somebody Who Doesn’t Exist?” Reach him at 257-0322 or