The annual Austin Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting Festival returns this Friday, Dec. 3 after last year’s pandemic-induced pause. 

The parade will begin on the east side of Austin at Unity Fellowship Baptist Church, 305 N. Cicero Ave., at 5 p.m. Parade-goers will march west on Madison Street, arriving at the 15th  District police station, 5701 W. Madison St. it time for the 6 p.m. tree lighting ceremony.  

As usual, the event is organized by the 15th District and the Austin Chamber of Commerce. This year, the Chamber is also holding a holiday storefront decorating contest for Madison Street businesses.  After last year’s celebration was canceled amid the rising COVID-19 cases and limited vaccine availability, this year’s celebration represents a step toward pre-pandemic normalcy.

Since 2011, the 15th District, which includes the part of Austin south of Division Street, held a community parade and Christmas Tree lighting a week before Christmas. Usually held a week before Christmas, it was devised as a way to bring the community together and celebrate that year’s accomplishments. 

But in December 2020, the city saw rising COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 vaccines didn’t become available until Dec. 15, and even then, they were limited to medical workers. The 15th District decided to cancel the event, but it did host a toy donation drive-through event on Dec. 22. 

Last year, ComEd donated a Christmas Tree for the festival, but because the event was canceled, it ended up donating it to a police station in the neighboring 11th District. 

According to chamber executive director Tina Augustus, the parade will feature a number of Austin institutions and organizations, including the Chicago police Honor Guard, Westside Health Authority’s Good Neighbor Campaign volunteers, the South Austin Neighborhood Association, Loretto Hospital and the Austin Veterans Community Organization. 

Augustus said that the tree lighting ceremony will feature several local elected officials, including Alds. Chris Taliaferro (29th) and Emma Mitts (37th), State Reps. La Shawn Ford (8th) and Camille Lily (78th) and State Senate President Don Harmon (39th). They also hope to have Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) Commissioner Barbara McGowan and. U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-7th) on hand.  

This year, Dreezy Claus, a Black Santa Claus character played by high school behavior interventionist Andre Russell, will join the festivities. Russell has been performing as Dreezy Claus professionally since 2018. Augustus said he will march in the parade and take part in the tree lighting. 

As usual, the tree lighting will have free hot chocolate and chilly, and there will be kids’ winter hats and gloves giveaway.

The chamber is holding the Deck the Business Corridor Windows contest for businesses and organizations along the Madison Street corridor and other major commercial corridors in the 15th District. While it was originally meant to coincide with the parade, the deadline has been extended to Dec. 13. 

Augustus said that she looks forward to the event’s return.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm behind it,” she said. “We have quite a few volunteers behind it, and we have a nice parade line-up.”