Christmas events woven into fabric of community

Breakfast with Santa, two-hour parade have become a treasured part of the holidays in Grafton

GETTING A SPECIAL opportunity to meet with the man of the season ahead of his visit to Grafton for Breakfast With Santa on Saturday, Nov. 26, were (front row, from left) Miles Grenoble, Leo Rana, Harley Simmons and Harrison Grenoble. Joining Jolly the Elf in back row were Pat Buechler, Todd Novotny and Becky Schimpf of Cornerstone Bank, which is sponsoring the Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce event that will run from 7:30 to 10 a.m. at Circle B Recreation Center in the Town of Cedarburg. Photo by Sam Arendt

By KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM

Ozaukee Press staff

It’s not hard to see that Grafton’s holiday events, which span more than a week each year, have been woven into the fabric of the community.

“There are so many family traditions that revolve around the parade,” Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Pam King said. “People plan their weekend, their holidays, around the parade.

  “People talk about where they watch the parade. They talk about how they always go to the breakfast (with Santa). We get a lot of first grandkids and their families there.

“There’s one woman, she talked about how she had two kids and 15 adults coming to the breakfast one year because everyone wanted to see the little ones meet Santa. She hasn’t been there for a few years, but I ran in to her recently and she said, ‘We just have to wait for great-grandchildren.’”

Grafton’s holiday season kicked off Sunday with the annual tree lighting, which King said drew about 200 people.

It continues this week with the annual Breakfast with Santa from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Saturday at Circle B Recreation Center in the Town of Cedarburg and the 42nd annual Christmas parade at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The newest addition to the Christmas lineup is the annual holiday home decorating contest, which runs from Dec. 4 to Jan. 6.

That contest was started in 2020, when the pandemic meant many of the traditional events couldn’t be held, King said.

“We were trying to come up with a way to get the community to come together and connect with each other even though Covid made that tough,” she noted.

More than 12 property owners have signed up for the contest already, King said, adding people can vote for their favorites online.

The centerpiece of activities is the two-hour-long parade that snakes for about a mile through the heart of the community.

“It was one of the first parades of the season when it started 42 years ago,” King said.

Many of the units have been in the parade for years, and this year there will be more than 100 entries. There will be a “very special celebrity,” King said, although she can’t reveal who just yet.

There will also be a number of bands and about 30 costumed characters, as well as two units with horses.

“They’re a hard get,” King said, noting that horses have to be specially trained for events like a parade.

The grand marshals of the parade will be the Community Group of the Year, the Sons of the Rose-Harms American Legion, and Citizen of the Year, Meg Canepa.

Her favorite part of the parade, King said, are local groups, such as the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.

“Those things matter to me,” she said.

The parade will also mark the return of the Dancing Grannies, who have been part of the event for more than 30 years. Last year, the group lost four members at the Waukesha Christmas parade when Darrell Brooks drove through the route, killing six.

“We’re ecstatic they’ll be back with us,” King said.

The Waukesha tragedy changed some things for Grafton, King said, noting they have to protect about 20 intersections along the parade route to ensure vehicles can’t make their way onto the line of march.

“We need to lock things down to ensure the safety of everyone,” King said. To avoid draining the village’s resources, the Chamber asked the businesses to aid in the effort, and they jumped at the chance, she said.

“They said, ‘This is our community. This matters to us,’” she said.

Although the parade has been the heart of Grafton’s celebration for 42 years, Breakfast with Santa isn’t far behind.

King noted that it started more than 30 years ago and was originally run by the Grafton Jaycees and Jaycettes, but over time was folded into the other holiday events.

The event includes a pancake breakfast, a visit and photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus, crafts and a number of costumed characters who roam around visiting with the youngsters.

“It’s fun when you watch the children seeing these characters they love come to life,” she said. “As grown ups, it doesn’t seem as cool. But to the children, it’s magical.”

Typically the breakfast draws about 400 people, although at times there have been as many as 600 people attending, she said.

More recent additions to the holiday celebration include the tree lighting, in which five 7-foot trees and a 10-foot tree in Paramount Plaza and a community tree at the Lumberyard Plaza are lit. Jolly the Elf collects letters to Santa and visits with youngsters, and hot chocolate and cookies are served.

And in keeping with this year’s theme of “I’ll be Gnome for Christmas,” businesses, nonprofit groups and others competed in a gnome contest. They had a week to decorate the gnomes, which are on display at Paramount Plaza.

“It makes it really festive,” King said.

A panel of judges awarded first place to Cornerstone Bank, second to the Rose-Harms Legion Auxiliary and third place to Providence Place senior living. The People’s Choice Award went to Eaton’s Pizza.

The holiday events, King said, are intended to bring the community together in the spirit of the season — and that’s a mission that’s been accomplished.

“When I walk down the parade route at the end, I can see people who have sat in that spot for a really long time,” she said. “They’ve been in the same spot for years, and that’s really heartwarming.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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