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Behind the Scenes at the Richmond Christmas Parade

For many Richmonders, Christmas season doesn’t start until the annual Richmond Christmas Parade marches down Broad Street. The parade, in its 36th year, is expected to attract over 100,000 spectators – more if you count the live TV broadcast – hoping to get a glimpse of floats, balloons, and experience some holiday cheer. (The Parade begins on Saturday, December 7 at 10 a.m.). 

2019 will mark the eighth year that Atlantic Union Bank will be sponsoring what every kid waits for: The Santa Float. Of the 102 floats, The Jolly One’s is obviously the most anticipated.

Craig Hott - Parade GuyParade preparations generally begin months in advance. For the Atlantic Union Bank float, and a few others including the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Markel sponsored floats, Craig Hott is the man (“The Float Guy”). 

In a cold warehouse at the Richmond Raceway, Craig and his small team of carpenters and designers make all the magic happen – just in time for parade day. Want to know what goes on behind the scenes? Let’s meet him.

What’s your title? 
(laughs) Float Guy.

How long have you been involved with the parade? 
At least 20 years. I got into it with the guy who built them before me. He was a retired firefighter in Lakeside. He passed away in 2012 and I’ve kept it going.

How long does it take to plan and build everything? 
I got started building for this parade in October. We started on some of the props beforehand. Concepts and planning usually start up in September.

Is this your full-time job for four months?
No. I do land surveying for a civil engineering firm. Friday, Saturday and Sunday I’m here all day. The other four days, I come here after work for a few hours at night.

How many floats are you working on? 

Can you describe some of them so far? 
I’m excited about all of the designs. A lot of work goes into every single one of them (points to boat-looking float). This was an actual boat that we converted into a spaceship (points to another). We did Whoville last year and we’re using it again. The paintings of Whoville came out really well. The Richmond Times-Dispatch is sponsoring that float this year.

The Children’s Hospital float is going to look great when it’s done. The hospital is putting an addition to their building, so the concept was the actual construction being done with a sun being placed atop the building by a crane. I built these cranes which will be part of a holiday construction scene.  

Do you have a favorite from the last 20 years? 
I’m most proud of the Eiffel Tower for the Kings Dominion float. It took me two weeks to build. You need to build it light, but sturdy. It’s actually vinyl trim where it curves, with some small wood slats around the side. It looks small, but it took a while to get it together with all the fine details.  I studied some photos, then scaled it down. They want to use the piece in trade shows I believe also, which is cool.

What would parade-goers be surprised to know?
How much time the whole process takes. We try to make clients’ ideas come to reality, but there’s some back and forth that might go on for a while.

What makes it special for you? 
It’s fun to do. It’s fun to be a part of all this. When a client sees their idea come to fruition and they appreciate it, that’s the payoff for me. 

What can you tell us about the Atlantic Union Bank Santa’s Sleigh float? 
It’s pretty cool. There’s a lot of history with those deer that lead the sleigh. They were on the Home Beneficial Life building on Cutshaw and Broad. They are really old, I’m told. Maybe 80 years? I re-built the sleigh three years ago. Before that, it was a pretty basic sleigh. Now, it’s a little more involved. We’re thinking of putting a Richmond cityscape or something in the background next year. 

What’s it like on parade day? 
(laughs) It’s a relief. 

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