One of the coolest things to do in Toronto for the holidays is to be a part of the Original Santa Claus Parade! If we’re in town we usually bundle up and join our neighbours along University Avenue to catch a glimpse of the many floats that come ahead of Santa’s arrival. This year, my friend Amy from Milk and Coco and I were invited to be Celebrity Clowns!!! To say we were elated would be an understatement!
Clowns at the Original Santa Claus Parade
If you’re not aware, the Celebrity Clowns usually kick off the parade by walking the route, engaging with kids and adults – being goofy and bringing smiles! I honestly didn’t know much about what to expect so I thought I’d share my experience so that if you decide to become a Celebrity Clown in the future, you’ll be prepared with my tips for participating in the Toronto Santa Claus Parade.
Who Are the Santa Claus Parade Clowns?
The Celebrity Clowns have been a 42 year tradition at the Original Santa Claus Parade and they are an integral part in bringing the Parade to life. The Celebrity Clowns began in 1982 when Parade co-Founder, Ron Barbaro, and Parade Director, Norman Jewison, dressed in clown costumes and make-up to walk the Parade in order to generate revenue for the Parade charity! They had so much fun, that they recruited 18 corporate executives the following year and this is how the Celebrity Clowns were created!
They created the idea of the Celebrity Clowns to engage business people, politicians and community leaders to get involved with their time and money when the Eaton’s group had to pull their funding of the parade. 42 years later, this tradition continues to play an integral part of the Parade as people from all walks of life join the ranks of the Celebrity Clowns, bringing Miles of Smiles and family memories to the hundreds of thousands of children and parents that line the Parade route to enjoy a day of happiness and tradition. Executives pay a fee to be outfitted in new clown costumes, wigs and professional make-up to help ‘kick-off’ the Parade. City officials cut the ribbon marking the beginning of the Parade, and the clowns are the first feature of the Parade down the route.
During my day as a Celebrity Clown, I was surprised to meet many C-Suite level executives and law firm partners who said they’ve been clowning around for years and that over the years, their kids have participated too. Admittedly most of the clowns were Caucasian and Junior clowns were definitely in the minority (with good reason as my kids refused to do a full day of walking without whining!) but I did meet a couple immigrant college students who were excited to participate for the first time too. As more people hear about the opportunity to become a clown at the Toronto Santa Claus parade, I think we’ll see a diverse range of clowns in the future.
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How Do you Become a Celebrity Clown?
Anyone aged 8 years or older can be a Celebrity Clown! Of course we need to remember that the idea of celebrity clowns was born as a way of saving the parade and to this day, those who want to be a clown pay upwards of $1,500 to be a part of this magical experience. Given that Amy and I were invited to be clowns, I believe there’s also a few volunteer spots open on the clown roster-so keep an eye out!
Remember that there are many volunteer roles for the Original Santa Claus Parade and registration for these positions open in February 2024!
A Day As a Toronto Santa Claus Parade Celebrity Clown
Once we knew that we were taking part in the parade, we received a document outlining what time we should turn up and the expectations. Upon arrival we registered ourselves (putting our families on a special list so that they can watch us from the VIP viewing area at the Hilton Hotel) and swung by an accessory table and picked up what we wanted (there were whistles, clappers, blow up bats e.t.c). From there we quickly proceeded to stuff our faces with the breakfast spread available for us (the organization does such a great job at taking care of the clowns and their families. Once the clowns leave, the spread gets switched to a lunch affair so that our families can enjoy a meal and partake in face painting, crafting and playing with toys whilst waiting for us to finish the route).
At this point Amy and I quickly realized that we should have turned up an hour earlier because by the time we put our suits on, the make up line was quite long. We stood in the queue chatting with other clowns and it was soon our turn to have our clown make up done. I didn’t have a game plan so I asked my make up artist to make me sparkly and colourful. Easy enough! The pink eyelashes were a nice touch and I was thrilled that I got the last pair on hand!
There’s a hairstylist who also helped me secure my wig before I ran off to get my official pictures taken. I can’t wait to see the pictures because we had fun with that shoot! Every celebrity clown gets a special book each year which are now collectors items amongst the Celebrity Clowns.
Tips to Keep in Mind
- Many of the seasoned clowns pick up their costumes well ahead of Parade Day and make any alternations required. IF you’re like us and just turned up on the day to grab your outfit – know that there’s safety pins and elastics available to help shape you into the suit!
- I know 7:30 a.m. seems like a crazy early start but definitely come early if you want more time with the face painters. We arrived at 8:30 and were rushed as one of the last clowns to be dressed
- I wish I had thought of bringing extra things like bouncy balls and other small toys because the seasoned clowns were prepared with suitcases filled with toys, colourful canons and other props to share with kids along the route. Perhaps I’ll bring some bubbles next year!
- Wear comfortable shoes because there’s a LOT of walking
- Layer up if you get cold easily but also keep tabs on the weather. This year was extremely warm and even the Uniqlo undershirt I wore was too much as I was sweating for most of the walk
- Look for kids and adults who want to take pictures and engage with the clowns – this was the best part for me. I didn’t have anything to hand out but I did have high Fives to give, pictures to take and my goofy self to make funny faces that turned some frowns upside down
- Don’t be like me and plan to do anything after the parade. You will be physically and emotionally drained at the end and should re-charge your batteries
If you’re like Amy and I, you will be on an absolute high all week long after the parade. This was truly such a fun activity that brough joy to our lives and those we met along the parade route. If you have the chance, definitely do it. I hear that it’s quite addictive and that’s the reason we met so many clowns who have been participating in the parade for decades! We clowns may be taking a break until next year but the parade artists and designers work all year long and have started working on next year’s floats already!