Sacramento’s Santa Parade needs more corporate helpers

St. Nicholas stays protected from the rain in 2012 at the annual Santa Parade in downtown Sacramento.
St. Nicholas stays protected from the rain in 2012 at the annual Santa Parade in downtown Sacramento. Sacramento Bee file

The Santa Parade will go on this year as scheduled. This shouldn’t be the holiday miracle that it is.

For the second time in six years, autumn arrived without even the modest sponsorship level required to pay for street closures, restroom rentals and insurance for Sacramento’s annual winter tradition.

By the time organizers set up a last-minute Kickstarter campaign, it was too late to make much of a difference. Putting on just a bare-bones version of the parade costs about $14,000, and pledges didn’t even come close.

So when the Sacramento-based health maintenance organization Western Health Advantage stepped in this week with a check for $12,500 to save the parade from cancellation, it was as if Santa himself had arrived. With a defibrillator. In an ambulance.

Thank you, Western Health Advantage. And thank you, Santa. But when a city can’t even put on a Christmas parade without repeated near-death scenarios, well, somebody’s asking for a lump of coal in their stocking.

It might be different if the parade had no constituency, but it regularly has drawn thousands of people downtown, even in its most forlorn years.

The Santa Parade hasn’t always had such a shortage of helpers. Launched in 1983 as a local version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and sponsored by KCRA-TV and the now-defunct downtown department store Weinstock’s, it had, in its heyday, all the things you’d want from a holiday event in a medium-sized city – floats and balloons, marching bands from all over the region, even the occasional B-list grand marshal (the cast of “ALF,” Shannen Doherty).

Then corporate consolidation thinned the ranks of potential sponsors, and the financial crisis slammed remaining donors. In 2008, the parade nearly died for the first time; then-Mayor-elect Kevin Johnson was the savior that year, bailing it out with $20,000 left over from his privately funded swearing-in.

Every year since has been a struggle, according to organizers. This year was especially bad, as construction of the new Kings arena displaced downtown merchants who had supported the parade in the past.

But the problem really is more that the parade can’t work without reliable anchor sponsors to reassure other potential backers and maintain some minimal standard of participation.

This year, only about four high school bands will march, partly because there is no money for prizes. There will be maybe one float, just because people who run a nonprofit in Elk Grove apparently have a pirate ship they don’t mind sending randomly down L Street.

There will, of course, be the basics: firetrucks, beauty queens, Shriners. Boy Scouts on unicycles. A unit of golden retrievers apparently will pad down the route in festive dog attire.

Like Whoville in the wake of that Grinch-stolen Christmas, Sacramento will turn out, rain or shine, on Dec. 13 to cheer it.

But, really, can’t we do better than that?

One piece of good news is that Western Health already is in for a good-sized sponsorship next year. Maybe some of Sacramento’s other good corporate citizens will join them. (Hello, Macy’s? Ho, ho, ho, Sacramento Kings?)

Just a couple of early, reliable backers, and not even that much money would restore the parade to something worthy of the hip, new arena that, in 2016, will be its probable end point.

C’mon corporate elves. Get on the bandwagon and make miracles happen.

Remember: Santa sees everything.