The Best Christmas “Madness”

by Noella Noelophile®

fire-breathing Santa gnome at Mad Hatter Festival

(“Santa Gnome” photo courtesy of Mad Hatter Holiday Festival, and used with permission.)

A fire-shooting Santa Gnome is just about to emerge from the rabbit hole.

So is a steampunk Victorian pirate airship.  And Star Wars-style droid robots, waltzing Maritime Cadets, flash mob dancers, the White Rabbit and Tea Party group, comic characters, a multiple Grammy-nominated slide guitar player…

(“Mad Hatter and Teapot” photo courtesy of Mad Hatter Holiday Festival, and used with permission.)

You guessed it!  The eighth annual Mad Hatter Holiday Festival, Parade and Tree Lighting happens this Saturday, December 2 in historic downtown Vallejo.   To say it’s going to be a creativity-fueled blast, is probably an understatement.   Saturday will be packed with five special Mad Hatter events.

This year’s festivities start at 2:00 on Saturday afternoon, with Wonderland Festival Activities in Vallejo’s Unity Plaza.  Think food courts (including one surrounded by Astro Botanicals’ multicolored inflatable forest), crafts, rides for the kids and fanciful characters in Victorian costume.  There will also be free photos with Santa at the Empress Theater, according to the Mad Hatter Festival’s website.

(“Vicious Cycle” photo courtesy of Mad Hatter Holiday Festival, and used with permission.)

Then at 4:30,, the Mad Hatter Parade gets started.   At 6:00, the Tree Lighting Ceremony takes place, featuring parade Grand Marshal Roy Rogers, one of the world’s premiere slide guitar players.  With him will be the Mayor of Vallejo; Santa, honorees from local nonprofit S.O.C.K. (Support Our Cancer Kids), and, of course, Vallejo’s Mad Hatter and his entourage.

The fun continues with the Lighted Boat Parade, at 6:30 pm.  Then, the Mad Hatter After Party, with live music courtesy of The Tasmanian Devils and Deep Blue Jam, starts in the Empress Theater at 8:00 Saturday night.

This year’s Mad Hatter Parade will have about sixty entries, says Festival co-founder, producer and organizer Frank Malifrando.   Dancing horses, marching bands, and Alice in Wonderland characters will all be taking to the parade route.  And this year, Frank emails, five new floats have been added.  These include a Sister City float, which Vallejo’s sister cities from Korea, Philippines, Norway and Tanzania created,  and an Alice in Wonderland float in honor of local nonprofit S.O.C.K.

Dragon Wagon at night in Mad Hatter Holiday Parade

(Dragon Wagon photo courtesy of Mad Hatter Holiday Festival, and used with permission.)

But what usually wows everyone the most, are the Burning Man lighted artists’ contraptions, which appear from the middle of the Mad Hatter parade to the end.

From its inception, Frank says, the Mad Hatter Festival has worked with Burning Man Festival artists.   Numerous camps of Burning Man artists are enthusiastic parade participants, with their gigantic and whimsical public sculptures.  And over the eight years, word has spread to “other Burners (with) few places to exhibit their art creations after the Burning Man Festival was over,” he explains in his email.

Frank says he also reaches out to Burning Man artists, at maker faires or the Burning Man Festival, to invite them to participate.   The result: a lot of fun and spectacle.

Flaming Rhino sculpture at Mad Hatter Festival

(“Flaming Rhino Redemption” photo courtesy of Mad Hatter Holiday Festival, and used with permission)

In this year’s parade, be looking for the Award Winning Burning Man Fire Shooting Dragon Wagon, a 40-foot-long Victorian Airship, from Burning Man group the Airpusher Collective, and the NeverWasHaul Victorian Mansion on wheels.  That last is from Obtainium Works, Vallejo’s own steampunk artist community.

Asked his favorite memory from previous Mad Hatter Festivals, Frank emailed a story of an anticipated “madcap conflict”.

“Last year, we invited Burning Man artist Barry Crawford with his Giant Mechanical Squid.” he explained.  “(The sculpture) had a number of moveable and lighted arms (and weighed) close to a ton.”

A group of kids stared at the massive sculpture for over an hour, Frank said.

“(They were) wondering if it was going to engulf them until they saw the Flaming Rhino Redemption coming down the street from the parade.   (They) thought that there was going to be a standoff between (the two).

“(The kids) actually thought that they were in Jurassic Park…until the Mad Hatter and White Rabbit showed up to reassure them that it is all Wonderland!”

The eighth annual Mad Hatter Holiday Festival begins at 2:00 pm, with festival activities in front of Vallejo’s JFK Library,, 505 Santa Clara Street, north of Georgia.  Then, the Mad Hatter Parade starts at 4:30, down Georgia from Sonoma Boulevard to Santa Clara Street.  The Tree Lighting Ceremony happens at 6:00 pm, behind JFK Library.  The  Lighted Boat Parade, featuring the Vallejo Yacht Club boaters, U.S. Coast Guard, and CAL Maritime Cadets,starts at 6:30 pm at the waterfront,


All of the above events are free unless otherwise noted.  The day concludes with a Mad Hatter After Party Show at the Empress Theater at 8:00 pm.   Here’s the link for show information–and they offer a discount for Mad Hatter attendees!