When Bob Grubb attended the 2009 Waukesha Christmas parade to watch one of his granddaughters perform in her school’s band, he expected a few hours of fun, light-hearted entertainment. But as each colorful float, energetic marching band and spirited Scout troop passed, he was struck by something that made him sad.

paradeSt. John Neumann Parish Knights of Columbus in Waukesha added a Catholic presence to the 2010 Christmas parade with a Nativity scene ablaze with white lights, keeping with the theme, “Twinkle, Sparkle and Shine.” The parish won second place for its float the following year. (Submitted photo)“Waukesha County has numerous Catholic churches, a strong Catholic elementary school system and Catholic Memorial High School, yet its Christmas parade had no Catholic presence,” remembered Grubb. “I thought it was a shame.”

Grubb shared that disappointment with his fellow Knights of Columbus members at St. John Neumann Parish in Waukesha. They agreed that something needed to be done. As part of their outreach program, the group decided that entering the parade themselves was the answer.

They wanted their message to be simple but direct: Keep Christ in Christmas. And to convey that vision, they planned to showcase the Nativity.

Grubb, a retired engineer, headed up the building of a basic yet sturdy structure that could be easily assembled and taken apart year after year. The wooden system consisted of eight posts and two lattice-style roofs meant to resemble a rustic stable.

A small but active group, St. John Neumann’s Knights of Columbus knew they would have to lean heavily on the parish to help make their parade dreams a reality.

Children from the youth group were recruited to represent Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds and the Magi. Because of the cold temperatures and length of the parade, the coveted role of baby Jesus went to a life-size doll. Women from the church’s sewing club crafted the costumes. Members of the choir were eager to accompany the float and sing Christmas carols. After Masses, parishioners graciously purchased Danish kringles to help offset the cost of supplies.

The responsibility of designing the float fell on the shoulders of the church’s art and environment committee. Because Grubb’s structure was modular, each piece

50th Annual Waukesha Christmas Parade

50th Annual Waukesha Christmas Parade
Sunday, Nov. 18
4 to 5:30 p.m.
More information, including a map of the parade route, can be found at:

could be decorated separately ahead of time. The stable was assembled just before the parade.

That easy assembly was crucial. Jim Piala, from Piala’s Nursery & Garden Shop just down the road from the church, donated the use of one of his flatbed trailers but wasn’t able to get it to the church until the day of the parade.

“We were assembling the float at 2 p.m., and the parade started at 4 p.m.,” laughed Grubb.

In keeping with the 2010 parade theme of “Twinkle, Sparkle and Shine,” the Nativity scene was ablaze with tiny white lights that gave it an ethereal feel. Walking the parade route, older children handed out candy, while adults distributed cards listing Mass times at St. John Neumann. The event was such a success that there was no question about participating in 2011.

That year’s theme was “Candy Canes on Main,” which added an interesting twist to the float. Red and white stripes embellished the stable’s wooden posts, and candy canes were given to parade-goers.

To marry the seemingly secular parade theme and the religious significance of the float, cards were handed out with the Christian story of the candy cane on one side and an invitation to attend Mass on the other.

The religious-based entry made an impression. Not only did the crowd shout out accolades as the float slowly rolled along the downtown streets, the Waukesha Business Improvement District, organizer of the event, awarded St. John Neumann’s float second place honors out of more than 100 entries.

The positive response within their own church and the Waukesha community as a whole has encouraged the Knights of Columbus to keep going. For the parade’s 50th anniversary celebration this year, the Knights of Columbus and St. John Neumann pastor, Fr. Curt Frederick, are looking to band together with the Waukesha Coalition of Catholic Churches, which includes St. John Neumann, St. William, St. Mary and St. Joseph. Theme for this year’s parade, which will be held Sunday, Nov. 18, is “50 Years of Golden Christmas Memories.”

Participation in the parade provides more than just an opportunity to remind people about the true meaning of Christmas in the midst of the commercial onslaught. For Grubb, it’s a bit more personal.

Although he wasn’t raised Catholic, Bob’s wife was. So he regularly attended Mass with her and their children, and was always active in whatever parish they belonged. But for years, no one invited him to officially join the church – which he eventually did – and he doesn’t want others to feel unwanted.

“As a church, we need to reach out and make others feel welcome,” said Grubb. “I hope that by participating in the parade, we can connect with non-Catholics, so they can see we are friendly community where they can feel at home.”