By Bill Cantwell
---- — HAVERHILL — In a way, the VFW Santa Parade has come full circle in nearly a half century.
When John Sullivan and his friends organized the first parade 49 years ago, the goal was to feature the arrival of St. Nick in Haverhill.
Since then, from year to year the parade has had various themes, including one that focused on military veterans coming home for Christmas.
But when the parade dominates the city’s landscape on Sunday, the event will return to its original theme — “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.’’
Indeed, the popular man with the long white beard is coming to Haverhill, along with dozens of floats and marching bands for the city’s biggest social event of the year.
But in an added twist, parts of the parade will take on a Red Sox and Boston Marathon theme.
The parade will feature the huge Red Sox Bootmobile. It is the same vehicle that was part of the Red Sox rolling rally in Boston after the team won the championship this year for the third time in the last decade.
The parade marshal will be Dave McGillivray, race director of the Boston Marathon. He made an appearance in Haverhill earlier this year at the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce annual dinner to speak about the marathon bombings.
City Councilor Thomas Sullivan, a longtime parade organizer and son of the late John Sullivan, said there will be plenty for people to enjoy, both along the route and in Haverhill’s neighborhoods, where the tradition of family parties will continue.
“It’s a day when families and friends get together to gather along the route and at people’s homes,’’ he said. “It’s a big party day. Many people who have moved away return just for this day to see their friends and family.’’
Sullivan is proud of the tradition of the parade.
“This is the longest-running annual event in the city of Haverhill, 49 years and running,’’ he said. “We’re very proud to hold that distinction.’’
The cost of the parade this year, which involves payments to bands and other performers, is $35,000, organizers said. Several days ago, they were still more than $10,000 short of raising that total. There will be a donation drive during the parade.
“People have to remember the parade is totally sponsored by the public and business community,’’ Sullivan said. The ability of organizers to make ends meet depends on the public and is also “a testament to businesses in the Haverhill area,’’ he said.
As usual, thousands of people from Haverhill and neighboring communities are expected to pack the parade route from South Main Street in Bradford, across the Basiliere Bridge and up Main Street, ending at the VFW on Kenoza Avenue.
And as always, Santa will arrive on the parade’s final float.
IF YOU GO
What: 49th annual VFW Santa Parade
When: Sunday, starting at 1 p.m.
Where: The parade starts near Hunking School and the Bradford Fire Station on South Main Street (Route 125), continues on South Main Street to Basiliere Bridge, crosses the bridge and goes up Main Street to Monument Square, and turns onto Kenoza Avenue, ending at the VFW.