Holiday parade in North Carolina reinvents itself amid virus

SALISBURY, N.C. (AP) — The ’Tis the Season Spectacular Parade will return for the third consecutive year, but this time people who normally watch the parade are going to be part of it.

“We really had to reverse our way of thinking about a parade,” said Shari Graham, one of the parade’s planners. “The people are the parade. The families are the parade now.”

To ensure the safety of everyone in attendance, the decision was made to reverse the parade completely, said Hen Henderlite, who shares planning duties with Graham.

Instead of having attendees crowd on sidewalks around downtown to watch floats, bands and entertainers march by, parade attendees will drive the route themselves on downtown Salisbury’s Main Street. As participants drive from Franklin Street to Horah Street, they will see holiday decorations, light shows, live musical performances and other celebratory sights along the route. Graham said that there will even be a snow machine or two.

The parade, dubbed "Tis the Season Spectacular: Take a Hometown Ride With Us", will take place on Nov. 25 from 5-9 p.m. Those interested in participating will reserve a spot online and pick a time slot for the drive-thru parade. Reservations will be free, but they will be required to ensure a smooth viewing experience.

Graham and Henderlite are encouraging people to dress up in their favorite holiday attire and deck out their personal vehicles in festive decorations.

“We want people to see this as a holiday experience, like you and your family decide to decorate your car with some lights or a Rudolph nose,” Henderlite said. “Maybe you decide you and your family want to wear your pajamas or ugly Christmas sweatshirt. It’s something that your family can plan to do as a unit.”

Graham and Henderlite said that they sought to make this year’s parade a “visual experience.”

“We want it to be where everything you look at, everywhere you turn, there’s something wonderful and something to make kids smile and parents have a great time with their families” Graham said.

While there won’t be any high school bands involved, there will be musical performances by country singer Tim Elliott, Divided by Four and the Moonglows, all of whom will be strategically placed along the route. Elves will be hidden on shelves in storefronts for people to find and take pictures of as they drive along. When people locate an elf, Henderlite said they can post them on social media for the chance to win gift cards to downtown merchants. The grinch may be lurking on rooftops and Santa will be waiting at the end of the route to wave goodbye to parade goers on their way home.

Graham and Henderlite are recruiting downtown businesses to decorate their storefronts and windows for the parade. For businesses that want to participate, financial assistance to purchase decorations and manpower to help put them up will be available.

By involving downtown stores, Graham and Henderlite hope to give them a boost in business during what has been a difficult year.

“We want to bring attention to downtown merchants,” Henderlite said. “We can get people to come back the day after the parade to shop. We want to do our part to help bring local residents back to shops.”

Through partnerships with local artists and nonprofit organizations, Graham and Henderlite are going to transform vacant or abandoned storefronts into festive displays, leaving “no place untouched.” The goal, Graham said, is to recreate a “mini-McAdenville.” Also known as “Christmastown U.S.A.,” McAdenville is famous for its town-wide holiday light display. Graham said that some storefronts will even have “Macy’s like” interactive displays in their windows.

The ability for the parade to provide financial assistance for business decorations was made possible by the parade’s sponsors, including presenting sponsor Food Lion, the Law Office of Wallace and Graham, New Sarum Brewery, GCS Global Solutions, Cathy Griffin Century 21 Towne and Country, F&M Bank, Godley Garden Center, Venue Services/Virtual Sounds and WSAT.

To reserve a spot to drive through this year’s parade, participants can sign up for free by going to tistheseasonspectacular.com and clicking on “Drive Through Ticket Reservations” at the top right side of the page. Registration will open Monday. Participants must reserve a spot in order to participate and will be given a color-coded car hanger that will correspond with a 30-minute time slot. The hanger can be printed out or picked up at the Rowan County Tourism Development office, 204 E. Innes St.

Only 110 cars will be permitted per half hour, and the current planned time slots will allow for more than 900 cars. Staging will be in the Law Offices of Wallace and Graham parking lot. Plans are to close streets around 4 p.m. to allow for setup of the parade.

In accordance with COVID-19 safety measures, parade goers must stay in their personal vehicles at all times and spectators will not be allowed to view the event while standing on the curb or sidewalk. Parade marshals and law enforcement officers will be at the parade to enforce social distancing guidelines. Graham and Henderlite said people who are in the same family group could sit in the back of a pickup truck for the leisurely ride through downtown.

Graham and Henderlite say they have communicated with local authorities to ensure that the parade will follow health guidelines. The process to get the parade permitted through the city was “tedious,” but Graham said that it will be worth it to provide people with a holiday parade this year.

“I have this feeling that it’s going to take off because people will be excited that there’s something happening,” Graham said. “All kinds of things have been canceled and I think people are desperate for something that will be fun, bring joy and be safe.”

Graham and Henderlite said this year’s parade will not take place in Spencer. The town of Spencer is planning its own event for December, and Graham and Henderlite said folks working on the ’Tis the Season Spectacular will also provide help for Spencer’s event.