Making Memories at the May Parade
Making Memories at the May Parade

The McFerran and Dahleen families of Orange got together in 1965 to watch the parade in front of City Hall.  Shown in photo (back row, from left) are Craig McFerran, Earl Dahleen, Betty McFerran, Gail Dahleen; (front row, from left), unknown, Scott McFerran, Thea McFerran, Barbara Dahleen and unknown.

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Orange May Parade

Since May of 1977, Star Wars has grown into a colossal fandom, enthralling young and old alike with its technical and scripted wizardry.  The fandom became so massive that in 2019, the state of California declared May 4th, colloquially known as Star Wars Day, to be a state holiday.

May 4th also happens to be the day of this year’s Orange Chamber of Commerce May Parade, and the theme, not coincidentally, is inspired by Star Wars.

“This year’s theme is ‘Come to the Orange Side,’ which is a play on ‘Come to the Dark Side,’ ” says Elizabeth Holloman, Executive Director of the Orange Chamber of Commerce. Visitors are encouraged to wear costumes and break out their toy blasters and lightsabers.

Since the first Orange May Day Parade dating back to 1933, there have been themes meant to encourage participation and creativity.  The earliest days had guests dressing as pioneers, and the businesses played along, too.

“In the first May Day Parade, businesses in the Plaza decorated their buildings with facades of log cabins,” says Rick Martinez, Chair-elect of the Orange Chamber of Commerce.  “They put a hitching post out so people could bring their old horses and buggies and called it the Pioneer Day Parade in honor of Orange’s first pioneers.”

The parade and former accompanying festival quickly took off. After the first held in 1933, the Chamber of Commerce took over in 1934. The parade was intended to be an annual celebration, but various events have resulted in missed years.

“In 1942 and 1943, there was no parade because of the war,” Martinez says.  There was also a large gap after 1991. At that time, the festival was suspended indefinitely due to gang activity in Hart Park, and the parade was suspended shortly after due to city budget issues.

Many Orange residents miss the full festival and feel it left a hole in the community.

“My kids and grandkids didn’t grow up with the parade being a big deal in the 1990s,” says Thea Gavin, lifetime Orange resident.  “They might not be interested, but me and a sibling or two will drive downtown to see the parade.

Others lament the loss of the Kiddie Parade.  Local children would dress up and make floats out of their bicycles and wagons to compete for a spot in the full parade.  Tad Smith, another lifetime Orange resident, said he and his siblings won four times collectively.

“One year the theme involved children’s story books,” he says.  “I was Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates.  My mom painted some ice skates silver that I wore around my neck, and I had a cardboard book sticking out of my back.  It was my favorite costume and book.”

Holloman says there is discussion of bringing back the Kiddie Parade, but those plans are currently unconfirmed.

Despite the long absences and reduced activities, the May Parade has proven to be a fantastic community building exercise.

“Even though we don’t have big fancy floats anymore, seeing community groups out there is so heartwarming,” Gavin says.  “I think it really gives the kids a growing sense of community. It’s our little, proud moment to be Orange residents.”

In addition to nostalgia, the parade benefits businesses.  Holloman says her sources estimate 20,000 people came to town for last year’s parade, bringing more revenue opportunities to Orange merchants.

With the parade again becoming a regular feature in town, Holloman no longer has to explain what the parade is, and says people are even anticipating participating.  “I’m getting emails asking when they can join the parade,” she says.

The Orange May Parade begins at 10 am on May 4 in Old Towne Orange.

Article Published in the
Mar / Apr 24 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Nathan Carter Photo by Bob McFerran
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