Each year for as long as they can remember, the citizens of our small town have been treated to what is dubbed the “Old Time Christmas Parade.” The fact that this event is annually held more than a month before the actual holiday in no way dampens the Christmas spirit exhibited by either its participants or audience. Indeed, an abundance of green and red is evident, and Santa hats abound. Small children wait patiently (or not) for the grand marshal–often the town’s mayor or similar dignitary–to kick off the event, and their eyes widen with each band, float, car, or farm animal that passes. Herewith, a few random observations from one who left childhood behind some fifty years ago.
I have to confess,and I realize charges of curmudgeon may be leveled at me,that it rankles me that the parade,as mentioned,takes place more than a month before Christmas;in fact, it precedes Thanksgiving by four days. Ridiculous! I’m already annoyed by the fact that Thanksgiving–a lovely holiday–is nearly usurped by Christmas decorations, ads, and songs that begin to appear in late October. An early parade merely adds to my chagrin. But enough about me….
The parade itself is a fascinating mix of secular, sacred, and silly in varying degrees. Separation of church and state appears to be a moot point for the creative teams behind the floats, with more than one declaring, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and admonishing the good townspeople to “Put Christ Back in Christmas.” While I didn’t attempt even an informal survey of onlookers, I suspect very few would cop to a cavalier removal of Christ from the holiday, and most would turn up their noses at the ubiquitous substitution of the word “Xmas” during the season. The one accession to political correctness was a homemade paper menorah perched atop a flatbed truck; I thought it rather a nice touch. More than one float managed to mesh both secular and sacred; I couldn’t help but grin at the sight of a plastic Santa peering down from his chimney perch into the innocent face of baby Jesus nestled in the manger on a float or two.
As in every parade since time began, there were majorettes of every size and shape. While the day wasn’t bitterly cold, most of the girls had the foresight to cover arms and legs beneath their skimpy outfits. As times change, so too do the parents chaperoning the dance units, Cub Scouts, and high school bands. A number multitasked as they marched, keeping an eye on their young charges while chatting or texting friends on their cell phones.
The animals proved fascinating again this year. A covered wagon full of folks dressed in pioneer garb and lustily singing folk songs was pulled by two of the largest oxen I’d ever seen. A sign on the back indicated both livestock and wagon were available for wedding receptions and various other occasions. I assume the singers would cost extra….In addition, all of the horses participating, a goodly number, were as festive as any of their human counterparts. They had either a Santa or elf hat perched over their ears, large bows on their tails, or–in the most extreme cases–both. Call me crazy, but I’m fairly sure these magnificent steeds were embarrassed by the sparkling duds. If they were capable of blushing, I suspect they would have done so.
While the parade’s motorized units ran the gamut from Shriner mini cars to antique fire engines, my favorite had to be the two clubs of local Corvette owners. I’m a little stymied, honestly, as to how our middle class town supports not one but two groups with members earning enough income to each own a Corvette. Stranger still is the fact that they are evidently divided along racial lines. The first, composed primarily of Baby Boomer good old boys, blared familiar Christmas carols as they rolled slowly along. The second, and to my way of thinking more fun group, was African Americans whose radios blasted hip hop, while owners implored the crowd to, “Get up, get up, get up!” We happily complied; the street was alive, moving to the decidedly un-Christmasy beat!
Overriding the floats, baton twirlers, Women’s Club marching packages, and barbershop quartets was the ever present threat of a passing train. You see, ours is a train town, and both passenger and freight trains make their way through daily at various times. Normally no one thinks anything of it, merely stopping conversation if you happen to be near the tracks. Since the parade route, however, traverses the tracks, all units must grind to a sudden stop whenever a train appears. This in turn leads to impatient Camp Fire Girls restlessly kicking their legs off the back of their “Santa’s Workshop” float, and Miss Lucille’s Level 2 Dance Troop tapping in place for several minutes with annoyed looks on their faces.
Eventually, of course, the parade resumes, the horse clean-up brigade springs back to life, and–at last–Santa appears atop the town’s hook and ladder, siren screaming. He smiles sweetly, tosses candy, and waves. Rosy cheeked toddlers, prompted by moms, wave back with awestruck faces. And in that moment I think we’d all agree–young or old, participant or spectator, Cub Scout or Corvette owner– that in those uplifted faces lies “the reason for the season.” Be it ever so early, Merry Christmas, one and all!