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Friday, December 2, 2016
Small Town Christmas
THE CHRISTMAS PARADE!!
I just returned home from Memory Lane! Tonight was the Christmas parade in our community of small town Americana. Forgive me for overtelling the story, but I invite you to join me in watching that parade before you mind’s eye.
I was standing across the street from the building in which my father had his photography studio for some 40 years or so, proudly crowned with a stone proclaiming 1895 as the year it was built. The upstairs was lit where someone now lives, as had been the case before I was born, and the main floor stood empty. On either side stood the buildings that once were shoe stores, but now house a women’s gym and offices (or former offices—hard to tell) of an attorney. Further down the block are several vacant lots, created nearly two decades ago by a tornado, where once stood the greasy spoon restaurant and the smoke shop that housed really great pinball machines. I was standing near the Mexican restaurant and local radio station, where once had been several very nice clothing stores.
The parade began, as many do, with the police vehicle sounding sirens to announce the start of the parade, followed by the sheriff’s vehicle, the color guard from the local VFW, and several assorted fire trucks, emergency vehicles and other important “Christmas” type(?) rescue trucks. But in small town America, that is how parades start. Always. Then came the politicians: mayor (I forgot we have a mayor), city commissioners, then a state representative and his wife who are actually one of the most down to earth political families I’ve ever met. After these preliminaries, the next phase starts, as we get down to the business of a real Christmas parade, with lots of business sponsoring the entrants, logos proudly displayed, and sometimes OVER-displayed.
I stand and watch, chatting with those nearby, as before me passes candy canes, reindeer, Christmas lights, a ginger bread house, cute little children elected royalty for the parade, and candy flying left and right into the hands of eager children. Well, actually the candy was flying onto the street where the eager children reached their hands down to scoop up the candy. And sometimes had to move several feet in either direction because the old folks like me weren’t picking up the candy that fell in front of us. I started helping, pointing out candy the kids had missed, and picking up some nearby to hand to the starving little ones. (I think the dentists should give me a commission, don’t you?)
Lots of different folks passed by. There were Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, little girls representing tumbling and dance clubs by cartwheeling and high kicking their way down the street, following behind the giant guitar playing Alvin, Theodore and Simon chipmunks on a float (you know, somehow the concept of “giant” chipmunks just seems wrong) . There were four marching bands, and as they passed I was close enough to thank their directors…one of whom shook my hand. I found myself remembering how cold a trombone mouthpiece becomes when it sits idle on the instrument as you march down the street. Many a time I did as these young people were doing tonight, in my hometown and other places as part of the local school’s marching band. A marching band which was significantly bigger than the struggling music program can produce at this time. Nonetheless, I was proud of every marching band member, and clapped so they knew they were appreciated….even if they weren’t quite as picky about straight lines as we were forced to be.
I have lots of fond memories of the marching band, although a friend of mine recently commented that whoever thought giving kids instruments and telling them to walk and play at the same time was a good idea had to have been drunk at the time. He may be right. But all the same, though the music may not have been as perfect as the professionally played digital renditions, the presence of live marching bands added a lot to the celebration atmosphere of the parade. I didn’t see any baton twirlers, though. Flag girls waving flags, and pom pom dance teams or cheerleaders were in the group, but that’s okay, I wasn’t all that thrilled with them marching with our band anyway.
A float moved by with friends on it, sporting the International Lion’s Club emblem and a big, gold lion, and I found myself remembering sitting on floats in “Santa’s workshop” on behalf of the local Lion’s Club many years ago, as we drifted past the no longer existent J. C. Penney’s, Montgomery Wards, soda fountains and dime stores. The buildings now are filled with other businesses, which is actually a significant achievement in a small town such as mine that has struggled with the WalMarts, mega-malls and online shopping of the world.
Of course, there were a number of things that have changed somewhat. There were some entries that seemed a little challenging for Christmas, such as Minions on a float. There was also a Frosty Snowman walking along who seemed to have gone to Weight Watchers a little too often, a float with a “Grinch” who gave a good representation of what a Christmas sequel to “Planet of the Apes” might have been like, and a group of guys in what looked like kilts swinging clubs at each other as they walked (the ladies next to me started to explain, but I asked them not to…I didn’t want to know).
There were other entries I didn’t quite understand. For instance, I never really thought about giving someone a yard of cement for Christmas…nonetheless the local cement mix company participated in support with a full size and several miniature mixer trucks, horns blaring and echoing off the walls. I also don’t remember blue and green “light sabers” being sold by street vendors as part of a traditional Christmas parade. I told the man next to me that they could have at least gone for blue and white for Hannukah, or red and green for Christmas. They yelled loud offering their wares for sale, with nary a Merry Christmas out of their mouths.
Included in the procession were also a number of vehicles from the local army reserve…whom I appreciate, though I’m not sure I get the Christmas connection…and yet, they are clearly an important part of our small community. Further in the parade was a long line of “classic” cars from the local cruise club…the same models that my friends drove in high school, which means I am now "classic." That’s a polite way of telling somebody they have become old…calling their cars “classic”! They were nice cars, but I thought they could have at least hung a little Santa from the mirror, or a bobble head Rudolph in the back window.
Missing from the parade were the miniature motorbikes and motorcars of the Shriners making their fast and noisy circles, and there were no horses decked out in their finery, except the ones pulling Santa’s sleigh at the end of the procession. I suspect the marching bands and those walking along to hand out candy did not miss the horses, though. And I’m guessing the reindeer had the night off, or maybe they need snow to operate in. Even Santa has to make do sometimes!
One of the most fun entries was a group of kids from the local high school, walking down the parade route with a mascot and emblems showing. Some of them were singing “Jingle Bells,” most of them were just walking and talking and saying, “hi” to folks along the way. I’m not sure if they were actually officially in the parade, or just needed something to do on Thursday night, but they were very friendly, and their songs fit the occasion, and they seemed to be having fun.
When the nursing home bus drove by, decorated with lights and staff walking nearby handing out candy, I recalled another year watching the parade, and finding that my own mother was riding one of those buses and waving at people. One never knows what to expect when watching a parade in small town America!
As the evening progressed, I was struck by the fact that the parade was about three fourths over before the first presentation of anything related to the origin of “Christ-mas.” That first appearance was on a float presented by, interestingly enough, a couple of local pharmacies who dared to have images of a Nativity and similar scenes. The earlier church bus was merely decked out in Christmas lights and handing out tracts. Not that I am saying that the parade should be exclusively Christian, but at least Jesus should be represented! I was very appreciative when the pharmacies came along, and decided I would tell my pharmacist friend as much the next day. Toward the end of the procession was a nicely done live Nativity presented by another local church, and then the parade ended with Santa and his lovely wife.
But most of all, there were streets lined by friendly people, talking together with strangers, waving at people on floats and laughing as they took pictures of one another or caught candy. Nobody seemed terribly concerned about a terrorist attack, or the mess that the political world is in. Nobody worried what color someone’s skin was, or saw the police as enemies of the young people walking along the sidewalks.
The parade created a delightful blend of the past, present and future, as generations blended together for the night, and I enjoyed memories of years gone by, while recognizing that things have changed and it is a different world.
And yet, through the changes the years have brought, and even that the centuries have brought, there remains one constant: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”—John 3:16.
That is the Christmas message proclaimed to shepherds on a hillside and wise men who studied stars. As you enter into the wide variety of celebration styles for the year, I hope you will also not leave out the core, the most important message of the season.
Don’t save it for the end of your life’s procession, either; keep it central. After all, it isn’t really CHRISTmas, if you leave Christ out of it.