McALLEN — The city’s Christmas procession billed as the largest holiday and helium balloon parade in Texas did not disappoint Saturday night with record attendance from the community after last year’s virtual festivities.
The night kicked off with a firework display which served as a preview to the brightness that came from new floats and balloons all night long.
The larger than life balloons parading through Bicentennial Boulevard left community members, from a year old to 92-year-olds, looking up in awe.
McAllen’s Holiday Parade has become a staple in seasonal festivities for many in the community and has even acquired its own traditions within the parade.
Joe Vera, assistant city manager for McAllen, said, “The Vuelta Zone originated here in McAllen, probably seven years ago. So people go to a quinceañera and the father is supposed to twirl the daughter because they want to see the dress and the beauty, and so people here just started saying ‘vuelta, vuelta!’
It organically started with the balloons and now we have a designated Vuelta Zone.”
He said the city sold out of Vuelta Zone tickets because of its popularity with the crowd.
This year’s parade garnered the city’s largest attendance, according to Vera, who said the event gets bigger and bigger every year.
While the Vuelta Zone sparked plenty of commotion at the parade, those holding the balloons said they had just as much fun running in circles while anchoring the floating balloons.
Among the tens of balloons in Saturday’s parade was Mighty Mouse, which was anchored in part by Sanjuanita Hernandez, a volunteer for DHR Health.
Hernandez said she was excited to be in the parade and was looking forward to catching a glance at some of the celebrities in attendance.
While the night was lit up with lights parading the streets, host Mario Lopez moderated the event.
Other fan favorites were Dallas Cowboys wide receivers Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson Jr., and current NFL interception leader Trevon Diggs who left Rio Grande Valley fans ecstatic.
In the crowds were many Dallas Cowboys fans rocking their favorite jerseys to show their support.
Four of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were also in attendance, causing crowds of men to line up at their float before the parade began as if they were waiting for a picture with Santa.
While the big time stars were guarded by plenty of security, The Monitor spoke with the true show stopper, Jolly Old Saint Nick.
In an exclusive interview with The Monitor, Santa Claus said he was excited to wave at the boys and girls of the community in-person once again after having to do it virtually last year.
“It’s nice to see real people again, and spread Christmas cheer,” Santa said.
This is the city’s eighth time hosting the parade and is the first year back after its virtual setting last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Senior cheerleaders from Nikki Rowe High School Samantha Gutierez, Dariana Munoz, Carmen Suarez and Sofie Serda were ready to spread Christmas cheer one last time before graduating this Spring.
The young ladies expressed that within the chaos of the pandemic they were grateful that they got to cheer for the community once again.
“We just want to say how appreciative we are as students of McAllen ISD to be able to have a full parade again, especially after last year with COVID,” Munoz said. “It’s really nice to see everybody and bring the community together.”
The Nikki Rowe band was one of 13 Valley marching bands who participated in Saturday’s parade.
“McAllen has a great tradition of providing fun entertainment for families,” said Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez. “You see it on the Fourth of July and you see it for Christmas and this parade, it’s really a big deal. … This is a big deal and it celebrates community, it celebrates the holiday spirit and the floats are amazing. Every year they get better and better. I think it represents a lot of pride so I’m proud to be here.”
Of all the spectacles at Saturday’s event, such as the mini carnival rides, firework displays, giant balloons, music from local bands and stars from all over the world, the sense of community pride and excitement stood out the most when classics like “Jingle Bell Rock” played throughout the parade.
Folks in the crowd could not help but sing along to holiday carols, making Saturday feel like a scene straight out of a Christmas movie as floats passed by.
To see more of the McAllen Holiday Parade, check out Monitor photojournalist Delcia Lopez’s full photo gallery below: