As corny as it sounds, I love the Raleigh Christmas Parade: the giant yuletide Elvis balloon; the monster trucks sporting wreaths on their grills; the “Nutcracker” mouse king poking his head through the roof of a yellow Hummer.
I cherish every French horn warbling “Silver Bells,” every ooga horn on a Model A Ford, every boom from a Helping Hand Mission drum.
But one thing about the parade bothers me like an itchy sweater: The date.
This year, 48 floats and 23 bands will roll down Fayetteville Street on Saturday, Nov. 19 – five weeks and a day before Christmas, so early the pumpkins haven’t rotted, the leaves haven’t fallen, the porch lights are still Halloween orange and “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” doesn’t air until four days later.
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In five weeks and a day, you could knit a reindeer sweater. You could grow a Christmas tree. You could walk to the North Pole.
I’m unleashing this holiday rant in defense of Thanksgiving, the stray dog of holidays. By the time we join hands and offer gratefulness for the harvest, the tree at North Hills Mall will have been blazing for nearly a week, lit about the same time as the parade on what is forecast to be a 70-degree day.
To me, a clear line must be established between mashed potatoes and fruitcake, between Pilgrims and wise men, between Squanto and the Three Wise Men, between cinnamon-spiced Christmas wine and all that is decent.
This year especially, we need a week-long hiatus to sit quietly and consider the richness of our lives, to pause for a minute before we dust off the holiday culture wars and start calling each other idiots again. To my mind, that sort of peace is hard to arrive at in the maelstrom of holiday shopping, which – let’s admit it – is the real reason for holding a Christmas parade in November.
There are, of course, complications in organizing a parade that marches 115 entries through a mile and a half of downtown Raleigh. Jennifer Martin with the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, the parade’s organizer since 1939, was polite enough to explain over my harrumphing.
For one thing, this whopper of a parade draws crowds from an hour outside Raleigh, and all of those towns have their own downtown Christmas spectacles. If Raleigh picked Dec. 3 – my personal choice – Apex and who knows how many other towns would have to reschedule or, heaven forbid, choose.
And if you travel downtown on a weekend, you know that an endless string of festivals, charity runs and food truck rodeos keep space on the streets booked as solid as a bowling alley on league night. If Raleigh picked Dec. 3 – my personal choice – it would have to elbow Mayor Nancy McFarlane off the Capitol grounds for the tree-lighting festival which now, for some reason, spans the entire day.
Basically, the city wants your fleece-covered behinds downtown and buying things as often as possible – and this is an understandable goal with roots dating to the first parade in November of 1939.
“The parade itself was arranged ... as a formal opening of the Christmas shopping season,” wrote a breathless reporter for The News & Observer on that day. “How well it succeeded was apparent yesterday afternoon when the sidewalks and stores were still almost impassible in places, and cash registers jingled the merriest tunes heard here in months and months.”
I want the cash registers to jingle a merry tune as much as the next guy. But can’t we budge tradition by a week or so and let them jingle in a month when Christmas actually appears on the calendar? If we’re lucky, maybe it will even snow.