When Rich Viger cofounded the Christmas Eve parade in Lynn nearly 30 years ago, the procession comprised only two vehicles: a handmade Santa float on an oil truck and a lone police cruiser.
In the years since the inaugural event in 1986, Viger and others worked to expand the parade to what it is today, a five-hour spectacle with more than 100 floats.
So after Viger died unexpectedly this year at age 52, organizers decided to dedicate this year’s celebration to him.
“The parade was something he lived for,” said Jay Walsh, who has been involved in parade preparations from the beginning, when he was 6. “He talked about it all year round.”
The parade was such an important part of Viger’s life it is mentioned on his headstone, along with an image of a firetruck bedazzled in Christmas lights.
‘It’s not the same without Rich around. But we are going to keep every tradition alive.’
Residents posted an outpouring of appreciation for Viger on the parade’s Facebook page, recounting memories from past parades and thanking him for his tireless work over the years.
“It’s not the same without Rich around,” said Jordan Avery, who has worked on the parade since 1997. “But we are going to keep every tradition alive.”
The parade is a collaborative event for the city of Lynn. The majority of floats and decorations are built and donated by residents and local businesses.
Douglas Towing and Transportation has been donating three floats for a number of years. Employees of Rick’s Auto Body fixed up Santa’s sleigh, and Walsh, who has taken over as parade chairman, spent hours refurbishing the reindeer. Even Chomps the Gator, the mascot for the North Shore Navigators baseball team, was to make an appearance.
The parade committee only builds about seven or 10 floats, said Walsh. The rest come from residents and businesses throughout the city. “If we had to build them all, this parade would be impossible,” Walsh said.
Viger first got the idea for a Lynn Christmas Eve parade on a wintry December night in 1985 while listening to his police and fire scanner. A crackling dispatch came over the radio, reporting that Santa Claus was driving a firetruck through Saugus. Viger picked up a young Walsh in his car and drove to Saugus, arriving just in time to see the jolly man driving through town.
The next year, Viger and Walsh’s father, John Walsh Sr., put together the first Lynn parade. It was modest, but people loved it, and the yearly tradition was established.
“When we had all got back after the first parade, we said ‘Wow, that was a great time,’ ” the younger Walsh said. “But now we need a Mrs. Claus.” Lynn resident Janet Melanson volunteered to play Mrs. Claus the next year, and has been Mrs. Claus almost every year since. The parade crossed through many neighborhoods on its 5-hour, 22-mile route.
Mr. and Mrs. Claus on their sleigh were featured on the last float. A quotation from an interview Viger gave last year to the Globe was hung on the back of the sleigh.
“Our mission is to bring cheer and happiness to the people of the city, and try to keep the city on a good note,” Viger told the Globe when he was the parade chairman. “I want to look and see whether there are tears in their eyes or enjoyment.”