Dec 05 2011
Holiday parades on the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t anything new. Many communities have them, from small towns, like the Arlidazzle parade in tiny Arlington, Minnesota, to Minneapolis’ Holidazzle parade series.
The city of Aitkin, Minnesota, however, has a unique take on these holiday parades. Aitkin is Up North, northeast of Brainerd, north of Lake Mille Lacs. You get it. It’s Up North. And one of the best-loved and time-honored traditions of Up North in Minnesota is ice fishing.
Sure, you can ice fish in southern Minnesota; it just takes a few extra weeks for the lakes to freeze up. Going up north to ice-fish, though, is a pastime of many good southern (Minnesota) people, including my father-in-law, and my husband and his brothers, if they’d only find the time.
Aitkin, embracing its up-north-edness, hit upon the idea to celebrate its ice fishing heritage. To do this, on the day after Thanksgiving each year, folks come from around the world to do a bit of shopping, eat some holiday goodies, see a free matinee at the theater on Main Street, and watch the Fish House Parade.
That’s right, the Fish House Parade.
For those of you who aren’t acquainted with ice fishing, you need to know that it gets cold out on the lake. After all, the lake is frozen, and you’re fishing through a hole bored through the ice. In order to keep from freezing to death, you either bundle up in many warm layers and place your back to the wind, or you get a fish house.
Fish houses range from basic to grandiose, from collapsible to cabins fit for kings. And people and businesses and scout trips from in and around Aitkin like to show their off in the annual Fish House Parade.
This year’s parade featured 30-some entries, each decorated around a theme. They like their fish houses in Aitkin, but they’re not too stuck-up to have fun with them.
The entire thing is narrated by an announcer, and judges choose the best fish houses. One requirement to be a judge is that you can never have seen the World Famous Fish House Parade before.
And World Famous it is. This year, a student from China was in the audience, and who knows how far other people traveled for the event. Our family made a four-hour drive to check it out. It’s kind of a big deal, I guess.
Aitkin itself isn’t big, but it has a healthy Main Street. I’ve read estimates that between 5000 and 10,000 people come for the Fish House Parade each year. I didn’t count this year’s crowd, but I do know that they were lined up four or five deep along Main Street.
The parade begins with the colors, and I was impressed that 1) the announcer told the men to take off their caps as the color guard came by, and 2) when the flags reached the judge/announcer stand, the entire audience recited the Pledge of Allegiance. That’s a great way to get a parade started.
After that, it was the customary fire truck. (Really, can there be a parade without a fire truck?)
Then it was time for the fish houses.
Fish houses entries came from scout troops
and local businesses
and showed off some team spirit.
The parade floats advertised upcoming community events
and high school sports. (Notice the nets the girls’ basketball team is using?)
Even the local politicians had campaign signs hanging from fishing poles.
Not to be missed, some fish made it into the parade.
It can get cold at the Fish House Parade; even at a balmy 43 degrees it was a bit chilly, but that didn’t destroy the fun of it. It’s also the first parade I’ve been to where the floats are stopped periodically to let highway traffic through.
All in all, the Fish House Parade is small-town fun at its best. It may be a bit oddball, but it’s something different, and it gives the town a chance to laugh at itself a bit as it shows off its community spirit.
The World Famous Fish House Parade is held annually at 1:00 p.m. on the day after Thanksgiving on the north-south Main Street in Aitkin, Minnesota. If you go, get there early for a good viewing point, and take some time to check out the local businesses while you’re in town. Dress for the weather; the parade lasts about 30 minutes once it gets going.
Have you been to Aitkin’s fish house parade, or some other wacky-themed parade? Tell us about it in the comments.