Since 2002, the citizens of Oberlin have ushered in spring with the Big Parade.

The event is put together every year by a core group of organizers that consists mainly of Oberlin College students and local artists. Recently, the Big Parade has also teamed up with the Oberlin Folk Festival, which is held the same day as the parade. Together, the two events comprise a huge festival in Tappan Square with a free cookout, games and music.

Participants build floats, create costumes, play music and perform routines or all of the above — everything and everyone is welcome in the Big Parade.

“It is just that; it’s just a big parade. There’s no agenda, no theme, very little commercial nature to it,” says Sam Merrett, a 2005 Oberlin College graduate who has participated in and helped organize the Big Parade for several years. “It’s also kind of a surprise each year because everyone’s invited to participate, and you never know exactly what’s going to happen until [that] day.”

People are encouraged to let their imaginations run wild — several hundred people come out for the parade every year, so it’s important to make a good impression. Firelands Association for the Visual Arts (FAVA) begins its preparation in February, offering free parade preparation workshops. These sessions give participants a chance to create their parade gear out of provided supplies and tools with help from FAVA instructors. FAVA’s free parade preparation workshops are held from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays in February and April, and Sundays in March in the New Union Center for the Arts (NUCA) classroom.

“The goal is to get as many people involved as possible because the parade has the power to bring together so many facets of the Oberlin community,” says James Peake, education outreach coordinator for FAVA. “It’s really amazing. You show up on the day of the parade and you see representatives of almost every demographic, from kids to teenagers to their families, and teachers and artists and politicians and seniors.”

This year’s parade will begin in downtown Oberlin at 11 a.m., Saturday, May 8, with a festival held afterward in Tappan Square.