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The Grinch joining La Jolla Christmas Parade on Sunday

Santa Claus, VIPs young and old, marching bands, floats, equestrians and good cheer will headline the 52nd installment of the La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival, which kicks off at 2 p.m. Sunday at Girard Avenue and Kline Street.

And this year, there’s an added treat: The Grinch will get in on the fun.

“The Grinch is definitely going to be there,” promised Ruth Chandler Varonfakis, parade spokeswoman.

The famous character from the Dr. Seuss novel, movie and play “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” currently being performed at The Old Globe Theater, will ride in the parade and be available at the Wisteria Cottage for photos with Santa Claus afterwards.

Audrey Geisel, widow of Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, and the Dr. Seuss Foundation are major parade sponsors.

The La Jolla Town Council’s holiday extravaganza —with its 2009 theme “Christmas Through the Eyes of a Child” — annually draws 20,000 eyewitnesses to the unfolding of a homespun tradition. Some 1,200 people from around San Diego participate in the form of marching bands, ROTC units, drill teams, dancers, scout troops, float builders, equestrians, car aficionados, politicos, promoters and pranksters.

Every year the Cub Scouts of La Jolla carry the parade banners down Girard Avenue to Prospect Street, where they make a turn and head for the La Jolla Recreation Center, where a family-oriented Holiday Festival begins at 3:30 p.m. That is followed by the traditional lighting ceremony of the Sunrise Rotary Christmas Tree at 4 p.m.

Floats are always a big parade attraction, with judges awarding prizes in various categories including Best Overall, Most Holiday Spirit, Most Original, Most Creative, Most Colorful, and Santa’s Favorite. Almost every elementary school in La Jolla has plans on the drawing board to build a float.

Also new this year to the festivities will be a companion event, the first-ever nationally televised flauta-eating contest in Southern California, sponsored by Jose’s in La Jolla at 1037 Prospect. To include music, food and a beer and margarita garden from noon to 8 p.m., the event will be a don’t-miss, said Bill McHugh, Jose’s managing member.

“We’ve got the number one-ranked eater in the world coming, Joey Chesnut, who ate 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes this year on July 4,” he said. “We’re grinding up the chicken and everything else that goes in (flautas) and weighing them so they’re exactly the same,” he added.

McHugh said the contest to consume flautas, a soft rolled taco in a flour tortilla, will start at 4 p.m. and contestants will vie for who can munch the most in eight minutes. “There will be a world record set,” he promised about the offbeat event, which will include a children’s fun zone, live bands and $3 discounted food for parade participants.

This year’s parade grand marshal is long-time La Jolla resident Anne Otterson, a high-profile supporter of Responsibility, a nonprofit providing education and medical aid to Tijuana children living in garbage dumps.

In the selection of its parade marshals, the parade committee, chaired by Ann Kerr Bache, emphasizes values of education, philanthropy, culture and service, while also honoring local citizens of achievement.

“The emphasis on service to the community and youth make this event a special one,” said Kerr Bache, who noted a whole new category of honorees, youth marshals selected by local schools, has been added for 2009.

She noted that local residents each year pitch in to make La Jolla’s event their own. Despite economic hard times forcing holiday events elsewhere to be canceled due to lack of funding, La Jollans have stepped forward to support their homegrown event.

“Seventy percent of our donations come from small contributions,” said Kerr Bache, noting the big-ticket backers — title sponsor La Valencia Hotel, Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and Audrey Geisel and the Dr. Seuss Foundation and City Councilman Kevin Faulconer — also came through in a big way.

But Kerr Bache said sponsorships are still needed to defray the costs of the parade. Call Debbie Dorsee, fundraising co-chair at (858) 551-3271 or e-mail Debbie@thedorseecompany.com.

For more information, including a list of participants, go to www.ljparade.com.

Here are no-parking and tow-away zones as well as street closures planned before and during the La Jolla Christmas Parade on Dec. 6.

Starting at 10:30 a.m.

No parking and tow-away zones

(For parade assembly)

  • Both sides of Girard between Torrey Pines and Kline
  • Both sides of Kline between Ivanhoe and Fay
  • Both sides of Herschel between Torrey Pines and Silverado
  • Both Sides of Drury Lane (Alley) between Kline and Pearl

Starting at noon
No parking and tow-away zones

(Parade Route)

  • Both sides of Girard between Kline and Prospect
  • Both sides of Prospect between Girard and Cuvier cul-de-sac
  • Both sides of Draper between Silverado and Kline
  • South curb of Prospect between Herschel, the side alley of Herschel and the Dip

Street closures
(For assembly and route)

10:30 a.m.

  • Herschel between Kline and Torrey Pines
  • Kline between Ivanhoe and Girard
  • Girard between Torrey Pines and Kline
  • Kline between Girard and Drury Lane

12:30 p.m.

  • Girard between Kline and Prospect
  • Prospect between Girard (the Dip) and Cuvier cul-de-sac
  • Draper between Silverado and Kline

Note: Streets will reopen as soon as the last parade entry passes and the streets have been cleaned.