Deck the Deere for Centralia’s Lighted Tractor Parade

Dec 9, 2022, 9:16 AM | Updated: 10:03 am
Scenes from the 2010 debut of the Centralia Washington Lighted Tractor Parade; the 2022 edition will take place Saturday, December 10. (Courtesy Amanda McDougall) Scenes from the 2010 debut of the Centralia Washington Lighted Tractor Parade; the 2022 edition will take place Saturday, December 10. (Courtesy Amanda McDougall) Scenes from the 2010 debut of the Centralia Washington Lighted Tractor Parade; the 2022 edition will take place Saturday, December 10. (Courtesy Amanda McDougall) Scenes from the 2010 debut of the Centralia Washington Lighted Tractor Parade; the 2022 edition will take place Saturday, December 10. (Courtesy Amanda McDougall) Circa 1916 topographic maps shows Centralia, largest city in Lewis County and home to the Lighted Tractor Parade since 2010; the county seat is south of Centralia in Chehalis. (USGS Archives)

Deck the Deere with boughs of holly and hang a shining star upon the International Harvester, because it’s time once again for the Centralia – WASHINGTON – Lighted Tractor Parade. And it’s very important, as we’ll find out, to include “WASHINGTON” in the name of this festive Northwest holiday event.

The 2022 edition of the Centralia Washington Lighted Tractor Parade will be held Saturday, Dec. 10, starting at 6:00 p.m. in the Lewis County town of Centralia – which was originally known as “Skookumchuck” for the nearby river, then Centreville, and then ultimately Centralia (a name inspired by the community of Centralia, Illinois).

This holiday event in the Evergreen State’s Centralia is relatively new; it began in 2010 when a grand total of 13 decorated tractors first plied the town’s dark and wet thoroughfares. Holiday know-it-alls will point out that older lighted farm implement parades take place each year in Lynden up near the Canadian border in Whatcom County, and in Sunnyside in the Yakima Valley.

One of the founders of the Centralia event – and the person who’s been making it happen every year since it was started (other than a COVID pause in 2020) – is a commercial photographer with a studio in downtown Centralia who grew up nearby. Amanda McDougall says that for that first parade in 2010 – the one that had only 13 tractors – five (or roughly 38%) were personally decorated by her family.

“We have several tractor dealers down here, and we talked one of them into giving us five tractors,” McDougall told KIRO Newsradio. “And so that was the year we learned very quickly how to zip-tie Christmas lights on a tractor.”

Nowadays, they have to cap participation at 90 tractors and other vehicles, and McDougall isn’t required to personally decorate any of them. The parade has obviously really caught on.

McDougall also says there often was confusion among the people who wanted to bring their decorated tractors to Centralia’s parade and who would telephone her in the weeks leading up to the event, insisting that the parade was on a Friday night.

Wrong, says McDougall, it’s always been Saturday. It was only recently that she solved the mystery of what was really going on.

“People are like ‘Well, you know, but everything says ‘Friday,” And I’m like, ‘No, we’ve always been on the second Saturday,’” McDougall said, describing frequent exchanges with aspiring tractor-decorators who seemed to be asking about a different event. “And then we finally figured out [those people were calling about the parade in] Centralia, Missouri. And so, after years of trying to answer people’s questions about the wrong parade, we have changed all of our marketing materials to ‘Centralia Washington Lighted Tractor Parade.’”

Here’s a helpful holiday tip: for Puget Sound residents, the Centralia, Washington tractor parade is much more conveniently located. A drive from Seattle to Centralia, Washington is 84 miles and takes less than 90 minutes; the route from Seattle to Centralia, Missouri, is 1,957 miles and would take about 29 hours.

Driving distances aside, the wisdom of holding an outdoor parade in December in the Pacific Northwest is perhaps questionable at best. It’s tough enough in July and August around here for the Seafair Torchlight Parade to coincide with warm and dry conditions. But mid-December? For a parade? Maybe it’s all about holding out for the possibility of snow, which would be downright magical.

“[It’s] never snowed,” for the parade in Centralia, McDougall said – though she holds out hope that this may yet happen in the future.

“One year, it’s going to snow,” McDougall continued. “We have had some soggy years, but that does not deter us. And honestly, it really doesn’t deter the people. There are a lot of awnings downtown, which is nice. And they’re still out there [for the parade], thousands of people. It’s crazy.”

The Centralia Washington Lighted Tractor Parade is free, and the route is about 15 blocks right through downtown Centralia – repeat after me – Washington. And, Amanda McDougall says it’s easy to park for free on the edge of the parade route and walk right in, and then get out in a hurry when it’s all over.

Saturday night’s parade is one of the last chances before Christmas 2022 to see lighted farm implements on the streets of any Washington town. Those other lighted Christmas parades in the Evergreen State have already come and gone for this year. Lynden’s was last Saturday – and, for the record, that one dates to 1990 or 1991. The Sunnyside parade also took place last Saturday; organizers there claim to be the oldest parade like it in the nation, founded way back in 1989.

For the adventurous drivers who insist on taking a serious road trip to get their lighted tractor fix, the 15th annual edition of the parade in Centralia, Missouri, will be held next Friday, Dec. 16.

Centralia, Illinois – our Centralia’s namesake – is an even longer drive at 2,140 miles and 31 hours. However, at last check, the lighted tractor parade phenomenon has not caught on there.

At least not yet.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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Deck the Deere for Centralia’s Lighted Tractor Parade