Yes, Virginia, there will be Christmas Parades in Pulaski County this year.
The Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade will be held on Saturday, December 5 in downtown Somerset. And that’s not all — a day earlier, December 4, the City of Burnside will hold its own parade as it usually does.
In the era of COVID-19, every large-scale event comes into question due to concerns over the spread of the virus, but as Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bobby Clue put it, an event like the parade actually fits within that framework relatively well.
“I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t have a Christmas Parade,” said Clue. “It’s outdoors. People can self-isolate or socially distance along the route as much as any other. ... The route is almost a mile-and-a-half long there are plenty of places to watch it by yourself. ... It’s as safe if not more safe than others things, like SomerSplash (the water park was open this year), the Moonlight Festival, the event Burnside put together that saw 6,000 people for fireworks (Thunder Over the Island). ... We’ve not had one confirmed case that resulted from (those events).
“I feel that this is a very safe and responsible activity,” he added. “I think the CDC’s biggest concern with with gatherings that are indoors. Quite frankly, we’d be doing a lot of disservice to the children in the community if we didn’t host it.”
Clue has stressed over the years that the parade holds an important role in the fabric of the community, particularly for its less-privileged. Children whose families may not be in position to buy them a lot of gifts at the holiday or go see high-priced attractions get an entirely free evening of holiday magic, just by watching the brightly-lit floats go by and trying to catch the candy thrown into the crowd.
Unfortunately, children will be missing out on some of the other attractions surrounding the parade this year. The Vendor Village and Santa’s appearance on the square to talk to kids about what they want for Christmas will be canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Likewise, the annual “Book Walk,” where groups go into different businesses downtown for a free reading of a children’s Christmas classic has been given the old heave-ho-ho-ho.
“A lot of downtown businesses probably don’t want a bunch of people traipsing in and out of their businesses,” said Clue.
Another major change is that the tree lighting will be held virtually this year. Instead of a large crowd gathering at the square to watch the switch get flipped and the community Christmas tree’s lights come to life after the parade, this time it will be done Thursday, Dec. 3, two days before the parade, and livestreamed on Facebook.
“The mayor (Alan Keck) and judge (Executive, Steve Kelley) will be there with words of encouragement for the community,” said Clue, who also expects a prayer from Police Chief William Hunt, and possibly a scheduled musical performance as well.
One advantage to this approach is that the tree will be already lit when the parade winds around the Fountain Square. “If this goes well this year, it may be the new tradition,” said Clue.
“There are some new things going on this year,” he added, “but it falls in line with moving forward with our lives.”
The theme is “Blue Christmas: A Tribute to Law Enforcement.” The theme is each year is chosen by a committee, not Clue himself, but he said he’s excited about the theme and “fully support(s) law enforcement here locally.”
Burnside’s parade has a similar theme, a timely one in a year when debates over police activity have dominated headlines around the country: “A Salute to Heroes.” The city said that it celebrates first responders, the real heroes who affect our lives daily, as well as superheroes that capture the imagination of children. The event is planned to feature music from the Somerset Big Band, a $1,000 Christmas Cash Giveaway, food trucks, vendors, and a visit from Santa Claus.
Burnside’s parade begins at 7 p.m., going down U.S. 27/Main Street through town, and is presented by Burnside Tourism.
Burnside Mayor Robert Lawson said it’s important to hold the parade to get back to “some normalcy for our mental health” in the COVID-19 era.
“Being outside is a good, safe way to do that,” he said. “We need to wear masks and social distance, but we need to support our local communities. We need to love one another and come together. It is the time of year we need to be counting our blessings.”
Along with that, the need to stimulate the economy stands large, said Lawson.
“Our businesses are suffering, and this will help get people out,” said Lawson.
The Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce Parade begins at 5 p.m. at Meece Middle School and will travel west down East Mt. Vernon Street and turn north on College Street, proceed past Somerset High School, turn west on Oak Street, then back south on Main Street. Then the parade will go past the square and turn onto South Central Avenue and end in the Judicial Center parking lot. Total route is approximately 1.4 miles.
The Chamber of Commerce will present parade awards for the following categories:
•1st Place Float
•2nd Place Float
•3rd Place Float
•Most Creative Float
The cost to participate in this year’s parade is $30 per entry. For more information please contact the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce at (606) 679-7323 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clue wants the event to be a safe, memorable for the whole community, and based on early applications, thinks this could be the biggest parade yet.
“If you feel uncomfortable (being in a crowd), you don’t have to go, but if you do, find people you’re comfortable isolating with and stay with them,” said Clue. “... I feel really good about it.”