Don your mittens, coat and hat and head to Downtown Fayetteville early on Saturday morning, Dec. 12, to stake out your perfect spot for the annual Rotary Christmas Parade, a hometown holiday tradition beginning at 11 a.m., complete with marching bands, accomplished performers and festive floats.
Between 100 and 120 entries will assemble from 9-9:30 a.m. in the parking lots of the Cumberland County Courthouse and First Presbyterian Church before traveling the parade route up Person Street to the Market House, then on up Hay Street to the Railroad Station. News 14 Carolina will provide live television coverage of the parade, expected to last two to two and a half hours.
“This is the 10th anniversary of the parade,” said Matthew Smith, co-chair of the parade with A. Johnson Chestnutt since 2001. “The parade is a year-round project for us. It is sponsored by the area’s three Rotary Clubs: Fayetteville Rotary Club, West Fayetteville Rotary Club and LaFayette Rotary Club. We join together to do this as a service project, not a fundraiser. It is geared toward children of the community, whether they are 9 or 99.”
Response from the community, as well as the state and even out of the state as far away as Las Vegas, has been very good since the clubs’ first year.
“We had 40 or 50 entries the first year,” Smith said. “We reached our maximum of 100-110 in the last couple of years. Most folks don’t realize how many people are in the parade — 3,000-3,500 individuals. We’ve done an excellent job of working together to put this on, and we also have additional non-Rotarian volunteers working on the parade. The city, parks and recreation and police department ensure things go smoothly.”
In addition to growing quickly over the past 10 years, the Clubs made another positive change in the parade –– the route.
“When the Rotary assumed responsibility for the parade, we changed the route so that it moved up the street toward the railroad tracks so the parade is not bothered by trains during live TV,” said Smith. “We don’t have to stop the parade for fi ve minutes while a train passes by, and when it’s live TV, you can’t cut out the trains!”
Smith noted that they expect 7,500 to 12,500 people to be on the street watching the parade this year.
“People begin showing up as early as 9:30; most come between 10 to 10:30. There’s not a curb seat left at 10:15,” said Smith. “There are reviewing stands in front of the Arts Council with some public seating and some for dignitaries and guests.”
Among the special guests this year are Rotary District Governor Nancy Barbee, who will be riding on the Rotary float, and the Parade Grand Marshals, Cartoon Network’s Tom and Jerry.
“We choose Grand Marshals who present a wholesome character that kids want to emulate, someone they recognize and associate with,” Smith said. “Of course, we will have Santa Claus, with elves following in pickup trucks with candy. We do want to remind folks that nothing is to be passed out by parade participants. It is a city ordinance.”
And while the overall theme of the parade is Christmas, the Rotary Clubs are working towards specific themes, which may bring out even more creativity in participants.
“We encourage homemade floats,” said Smith. “The number has grown considerably. We’re hoping at some point that the parade will have more floats than walking groups.”
For more information or to apply to participate in the parade, visit www.rotarychristmasparade. com or call (910) 309-1759.