Decatur's traditional Christmas parade through downtown, which typically draws a crowd of about 5,000 people, has been canceled this year as a COVID-19 precaution, but an alternative event is planned.
Meanwhile, Athens is moving forward with preparations for its Christmas parade, while Hartselle hasn't made a decision on its event. Moulton has called off its Christmas parade.
The Decatur event's cancellation announced Wednesday left dedicated paradegoer Samantha McClendon downhearted. She said she has attended the holiday parade every year since she moved to Decatur in 1996, along with her husband and three children, and was "disappointed and aggravated" to learn the traditional parade won’t be happening this year.
“Me and my family go every year, and even went last year with our 3-week-old — me and him sat in the car and watched — and while I understand COVID is still around, it was one of those things that I was hoping remained the same.”
McClendon said her family stayed home from March until August because of the pandemic, and after months of staying inside she was hoping the winter holidays would be “as close to normal as they could be” this year.
“Me and my family have been extremely cautious throughout this entire ordeal,” she said. “October (through) December is our favorite time of the year simply because of our favorite holidays. ... I saw Huntsville had already canceled theirs, and I hoped so bad that (Decatur) wouldn’t cancel ours.”
The Decatur Jaycees, who sponsor the city's parade, hope they still boost the community's Christmas spirit with a substitute drive-thru event called "Spectacle of Lights" from Dec. 17-20. Participating businesses and other non-residential establishments will decorate their exteriors with holiday lights and decor for onlookers to drive past.
Several local businesses were warming to the Jaycees' idea Wednesday. Denise McNeill, who owns Indigo’s Boutique on Second Avenue Southeast along the normal parade route, said they decorate their storefront every year for the holidays, and this year will be no exception.
Ashley Ashwander, who owns The Paper Chase and shares a storefront with Old River Interiors owner Lindsey Faulkner on Second Avenue, said the pair will be decorating for the drive-thru audience as well.
Decatur Jaycees president Amber Reynolds said in a news release that the idea for a “reverse holiday parade” was born after the organization made the decision to cancel the traditional parade due to COVID-19.
“Once the decision was made, the Decatur Jaycees board members and I put our heads together to figure out a way to keep the tradition alive so that our community could continue to come together and celebrate the magic of the season,” Reynolds said. “We started thinking of our favorite holiday pastimes as children, and someone mentioned riding around looking at lights.”
Unlike in past years, the Decatur Jaycees will not be selecting a non-profit organization to donate parade proceeds to. Instead, the public can vote on their non-profit of choice for $5, and the winning organization will receive the proceeds from the parade as well as the funds collected from voting.
Locations where non-residential establishments throughout the city have decorations will be available on an interactive map so sightseers can plan their route, the Jaycees said. More information is available at decaturjaycees.com under the "events" menu.
Other local cities
Athens will hold its traditional Athens-Limestone County Christmas parade this year on Dec. 3 at 6 p.m., City of Athens spokeswoman Holly Hollman said. The parade’s theme is “A Christmas Wish — Love, Unity and Community.”
According to Athens Main Street, the parade will follow the annual tree-lighting, which starts at 5 p.m. Participants will start at Athens Middle on U.S. 31, head west on Hobbs Street, south on Jefferson Street, east on Market Street, south on Marion Street, west on Washington Street, south on Jefferson Street and will end at the Athens Shopping Center where Hometown Grocery is located.
Hollman said the city has been receiving calls from residents asking if the parade was still on this year due to COVID-19: “It is a much-loved tradition in Athens.”
Hollman said people will be encouraged to wear masks, social distance and stay home if they’re sick or have recently been sick.
“ … The (Chamber of Commerce) is really pushing people to take on personal responsibility for the event,” Hollman said. The statewide mask ordinance is currently set to expire Nov. 8, but Hollman said residents will be encouraged to wear their masks at the parade if Gov. Kay Ivey extends the mask ordinance into December.
More information is available at www.tourathens.com/christmas.
Hartselle Mayor Randy Garrison said the city has not yet decided if it will hold a traditional Christmas parade. He said they will likely come to a decision by Nov. 2, and are considering multiple options, including a modified drive-thru event similar to Decatur’s parade.
Moulton Mayor Roger Weatherwax said his city's parade won't be held this year.