Each year, float participants compete to win special recognition in eight categories: most outstanding band, most original float, best professional float, best youth or educational float, best community float, best business float, best theme float and judge’s choice.

The best, of course, is saved for last as the parade wraps up with a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

By tradition, the city typically chose a distinguished Lakeland citizen to serve as the parade’s honorary grand marshal. But starting in 2018, the Junior League took a different approach aimed at encouraging literacy with a Polk County student essay contest, quickly become a new beloved tradition.

Residents unable to make the parade in person are encouraged to watch live on the City of Lakeland’s Facebook Page, or Spectrum Channel 643, FiOS Channel 43 or Comcast Channel 5.