You wanted a Christmas parade?
You got a Christmas parade.
Like Santa's sack on Christmas Eve nearly overflowing with toys, the 2019 Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade was stuffed full of floats, football players, and festive fun. The marathon parade lasted around two-and-a-half hours, winding its way throughout downtown Somerset from Meece Middle School to the Judicial Center parking lot.
"I would say this is this probably the largest parade that we've ever had in Pulaski County," said Bobby Clue, Executive Director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce. "It's easily the largest one in the last 15 years. That's about as far back as the records go.
"I talked to several of the older statesmen in the community and they said it was the largest parade they'd ever seen, and that goes back six decades," he added. "There was something magical in the air Saturday night."
That might have had something to do with being in the presence of champions. En route from winning their first state football title earlier that day in Lexington, the Somerset Briar Jumper buses jumped right into the midst of the parade -- a group including the band and cheerleaders as well as the team itself -- and stopped downtown to get out and be recognized by a proud community.
"The crowd went absolutely nuts," said Clue. "It was such an electric moment.
The annual parade culminates in the tree lighting ceremony, where Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley said a few words before flipping to switch and bringing to life the brilliant LED white lights on the Fountain Square tannenbaum.
"It amazes me how the community pulls together this time of year to usher in the events of the Christmas season," said Kelley. "The day was a wonderful success thanks to all who contributed their time and efforts. It just shows that working together for good, there is nothing we cannot accomplish."
For Keck, "Christmas on the Square" fits in neatly with his vision for a more active Somerset. His slogan of "lighting up" downtown -- something that's been accomplished throughout 2019 with various street festivals -- finds perhaps no greater literal example than with the glow of the Christmas tree and all the spectacular lights of the parade, even though those traditions long predated his election as mayor.
"(The event) does fit in," said Keck. "Folks have been putting on a good parade for decades now, but it felt good to join them and light it up even further.
"I think it was unequivocally a record turnout," he added. "It was neat to bring in a state championship and celebrate with the Jumpers."
The turnout was certainly higher than average. Clue said there are usually between 80 and 100 entries in the parade; there were more than 135 this year, with "well over 2,000" individual participants, about twice as many bodies as normal.
And the crowd was bigger still. "It just seemed like everybody came out. It was the largest we've ever seen on the square," said Clue, "tremendous energy."
Yes, all that participation did make the parade take longer. As the temperature dropped over the course of the night, the parade went on, close to an hour longer than many other other years. That became one of the common talking points about the event.
"We saw a couple of things that led to that," said Clue. "There was just more participation. Organizations that might have only brought one vehicle in the past brought two or three.
"The other thing was (stopping to honor) the football team," he added. "That did slow things down a bit. They had to unload three buses and did a presentation -- the cheerleaders, the band played. It slowed everything down by 20 minutes."
On the other hand, "It's not every day that you have the first state championship (Somerset High School) has ever won," noted Clue. "I loved it. I thought it was great to have them as a part of (the parade). It's a part of history."
Keck loved the team's appearance, but perhaps his favorite moment -- seen by those who stuck around the whole time for the ceremonial tree lighting -- was a special song called "The 12 Days of Somerset," created and presented by performers from Flashback Theater Co. and McNeil Music Center in Somerset. The song, set to the familiar tune of the holiday classic, worked in references to local notables; instead of five golden rings, for example, enthusiastic carolers belted out, "Five 'Mocha Jo's," referencing the popular drink from Baxter's Coffee.
"I really enjoyed that," said Keck of the song. Clue agreed; "It was one of my favorite points of the night."
Creativity was also expressed in the parade itself. Indeed, the award for "Most Creative" float went to the Lung and Sleep Disorder Institute and Dr. Sandra Schuldheisz, for a concept fitting in with the event's "12 Days of Christmas Theme" featuring the familiar "Maids a-Milking," and individuals dressed in farmhouse maid attire.
"Dr. Sandy always puts on a good show," said Clue.
First Place float went to Oak Hill Baptist, Second Place to Speedy Taco, and Third Place to the Kid SpOt. Attorney Gregory Ousley's office won the Storefront Decoration Contest for downtown businesses -- next to a giant air-filled purple dragon and vibrant window display, Ousley's office served free popcorn, hot cider, and water.
Clue was aso pleased with how the Vendor Village and Book Walk went throughout the day leading up to the parade, which was pushed back to 6 p.m. to accommodate the football team's game in Lexington earlier that day.
While local businesses, football teams, and elected officials had their turn in the spotlight this past weekend, it was a sense of holiday fun and whimsy felt by local children that represents what Christmas on the Square is all about.
"It's just good to see so many kids smiling and having fun and celebrating as a community," said Keck.
Added Clue, "We always try to make it a special event. For some children, it might be their only positive experience of the holiday period. We want to give them something they can hold onto and remember."