The 130th Santa Claus Parade weaved through downtown Peoria on Friday, an annual post-Thanksgiving tradition.
The celebration kicked off the holiday season and leading the way was the Grand Marshal.
“Really an honor, being the oldest parade in the United States and actually growing up in Peoria and now getting to be the Grand Marshal,” Brigadier General William “Robbie” Robertson, Chief of Staff from the Illinois Air National Guard, said.
Organizers estimate between 10,000 and 20,000 people watched as Robertson walked with members of the 182nd Airlift Wing. Kids waited eagerly for volunteers in floats to toss out candy.
Robertson remembers when he was one of those kids.
“I always remember the big floats and I always remember Santa at the end of the parade, waiting for Santa to come by,” he said.
The parade consisted of floats from local nonprofits, businesses, radio stations, groups and schools. More than 80 entries strolled through Peoria’s streets, with a gleefully waving Santa bringing up the rear.
But near the front, Robertson was thrilled to be walking along fellow service members.
“I am really proud to be part of them and with them if you will because I did command that unit for 13 years,” Robertson. “It is truly an honor to be with them.”
Robertson, the 57-year-old Peoria native, left his position with the 182nd Airlift wing to take on his new role with the Illinois Air National Guard earlier in November.
Robertson said that the parade is extremely valuable for the city.
“For Peoria it means a lot, not only the longevity of the parade but it is the kickoff of the holiday season. We need to come together for the holiday and celebrate what is good about America.”