No other event connected to the Merced County Spring Fair personifies community spirit like the annual May Day Parade.
Going strong after more than 100 years, the May Day Parade through downtown Los Banos is always first on local residents’ lists of places to be on the first Saturday in May.
The annual parade will get underway at 9 a.m. May 3 and travel a downtown route very similar to the one established in the early days of the parade when legendary cattleman Henry Miller instituted the springtime celebration.
Parade coordinator Heidi Caredio said this year’s parade will have more than 100 entries and will feature grand marshal Ron Alberti cruising the parade route in a red 1965 Mustang convertible. Veterans, marching bands, costumed riders and horses, Boy Scouts, and costumed children will all be in the parade. Other featured participants will be the May Day Queen and her court. Judges will choose their favorites and award the Fair Board trophy, Fair President’s trophy and Mayor’s Trophy.
The parade is really an extension of this year’s fair theme “Growing Our Heritage,” said Caredio. Events like the parade and spring fair are local traditions that spring from the area’s agricultural heritage.
The original celebration, hosted by Miller, was an 1890 May Day invitation to the Canal Farm where the railroad had been completed. On Miller’s orders, a “real first class cattlemen’s picnic” was held. The largest gathering ever held on the West Side was on hand for the first celebration as was Henry Miller himself. According to documents in the Los Banos museum, Miller enjoyed the celebrations so much and the community was so responsive he continued them for the remainder of his life. After his death in 1916, the Los Banos Chamber of Commerce and later the American Legion worked to continue the tradition of the May Day celebration.
In 1938, the Native Sons took on the task of carrying out the traditional May Day celebration. The event grew to such proportions that more than 50,000 people crowded into town to participate in the festivities. In its heyday the celebration featured not one but two parades and sometimes three parades through downtown Los Banos. Participants came from all over the state. A kiddie parade was held on Saturday and crowds packed the sidewalks during a four-hour-long parade on Sunday.
During that time, the Los Banos May Day Parade was known as second only to the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena in terms of colorful pageantry.
“Residents look forward to this day all year and turn out for the parade,” said Caredio. “Most of them then spend the rest of the day at the fair.”