Although a slew of stores trotted out Christmas decorations weeks ago, the holiday season doesn’t officially begin for many people until the marching bands and gaily decorated floats parade through downtown.
People like Krista Stallings.
Stallings, 42, has been an eager spectator – or participant – in the Raleigh Christmas Parade every year for as long as she can remember.
“I just love the excitement,” she said Saturday morning as she stood at the intersection of Morgan and Salisbury streets awaiting the start of this year’s parade. “This is the kickoff to the holiday season.”
When Stallings was in the third grade, she placed third in the competition for “most creative costume.”
Not only did she dress up as an elf – in a costume made by her mother – but she also pulled a little wagon that was stocked with presents.
“I was really cute,” she said. “It was just a really good time ... I made it in The N&O.”
The parade was begun by downtown merchants in 1939 and has mostly been an annual affair – always on the Saturday before Thanksgiving – ever since. But it did go on hiatus for three years during World War II, said Jennifer Martin, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, which puts on the parade.
The weather for this year’s edition was fiercely sunny but nonetheless on the cool side, with temperatures ranging from the low to mid-40s. Scarves, gloves, woolen hats were out in force – and some spectators even huddled in blankets.
Raleigh resident Rob Black, 46, and his group of eight or nine – including his mother, Betty Black, 77 – brought along an antidote for the chill: a portable table stocked with hot chocolate, coffee, sausage rolls and cookies.
“Typically I tailgate at N.C. State,” said Rob Black. “The tailgating gene for bringing the table and all the food is in my blood.”
But it’s usually even colder when the Christmas parade struts its stuff, said Felicia Atkinson, who came to Saturday’s event with her two children: Shamiah Holloway, 13, and Jaliyah Jones, 9.
Atkinson, who has brought her kids to the parade each year since they were little, said the parade has been getting progressively bigger and better.
But, she added, it still features what she calls “the gaps” – lulls in the action that arise for no apparent reason.
“It’s a good (time for a) bathroom break,” she said.
Patriotism on parade
Mike Parks, 34, of Pinehurst, stood out among the throngs of spectators in a red-white-and-blue outfit – bright red pants and a blue sports jacket festooned with white stars – that made it appear he had wandered away from a misinformed Fourth of July celebration.
“Every day is America day,” said Parks, an Army major who recently returned from his second tour in Iraq and was attending with his wife, Mariann, and children MJ, 7, and Maxton, 2. “Plus I just bought this and I told my wife I’m going to wear it on as many chances as I can.”
MJ was looking forward to his very first Christmas parade.
“I really like Christmas ... because Santa brings everybody in the whole world presents,” he said.
“But only if you’re good, right?” his dad interjected.
MJ nodded in agreement.
As with any family event, not every spectator wanted to be there – including Stallings’ 13-year-old son, Reginald.
But after decades of attending the Christmas parade, his mom was taking the long view.
“He’ll start liking it when he gets older,” she said. “He’ll bring his kids. It will be a family tradition.”