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Christmas parade delivers tradition amid downtown Raleigh’s changing landscape

Christmas parade draws thousands to downtown Raleigh

Tens of thousands of spectators lined the 1.4-mile route with a curbside view of traditional marching bands, floats and costumed characters, mixed with a sampling of entries entirely unique to Raleigh during the 74th annual Raleigh Christmas parade.
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Tens of thousands of spectators lined the 1.4-mile route with a curbside view of traditional marching bands, floats and costumed characters, mixed with a sampling of entries entirely unique to Raleigh during the 74th annual Raleigh Christmas parade.

Raleigh’s annual Christmas parade — a massive, moving celebration of the season and, lately, the city’s rapidly changing downtown — put the 74th edition on the books Saturday.

Tens of thousands of spectators lined the 1.4-mile route with a curbside view of traditional marching bands, floats and costumed characters, mixed with a sampling of entries entirely unique to Raleigh.

We’re thinking the Oakwood Awesomettes, for example. The fancifully attired majorettes, propelled by the Oakwood Second Line Band, range in age from the 50s to the 80s.

And wasn’t that Ira David Wood traipsing down the parade route with the cast of “A Christmas Carole” from Theatre in the Park’s popular adaptation?

Then came Oak City Cycling Project — a pack of cyclists and their stunts, fully costumed but not necessarily for the holidays.

Ballet Folklorico’s Mexican ensemble was followed by an Hawaiian-themed float, just ahead of the Axes & Ales red fire engine novelty party tour vehicle.

By the end of the two-hour spectacle, temperatures had risen to the low 50s — just enough to be seasonal but still comfortable for spectators.

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Tens of thousands of spectators lined the 1.4-mile route with a curbside view of traditional marching bands, floats and costumed characters, mixed with a sampling of entries entirely unique to Raleigh during the annual Christmas parade Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018 in downtown Raleigh. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com@newsobserver.com

Jennifer Martin, executive director of the parade sponsor Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, was reached by text somewhere along the parade route.

“This is beautiful, absolutely perfect day for a Raleigh Christmas parade,” she said. “The crowd is loving this parade. It is packed from end to end, and the energy is just incredible.”

For many, the parade is a must-see every year.

“I’ve been coming to this all my life,” said Keyshia Burch of Raleigh. “It’s fun — it’s the best parade.”

Joshua James, balancing his tot Layla on his shoulders, is another Raleigh native and fan of the city’s largest parade.

“I think it’s awesome,” James said. “It’s good for the community, good for my baby girl to see.”

The sprawling event snarled traffic much of the morning, compounded by visitors who didn’t know their way around an under-construction downtown. Except for those who live or work there, maneuvering in traffic can be a puzzle, particularly as Raleigh’s core is undergoing dramatic changes.

Highrise offices, hotels and luxury apartments are going up, small merchants are popping up in storefronts, restaurants and breweries are expanding the edges of downtown. A new transit station is drawing grocery stores and other commercial projects to the west side while helping to redefine the city’s skyline.

Close to 1 million visitors attend outdoor festivals like the Christmas parade, according to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.

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Flag twirlers march with the Cary High marching band during Raleigh’s annual Christmas parade Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018 on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. Tens of thousands of spectators lined the 1.4-mile route with a curbside view of traditional marching bands, floats and costumed characters, mixed with a sampling of entries entirely unique to Raleigh. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com@newsobserver.com

An event like Saturday’s is also meant to draw shoppers who might not otherwise venture downtown, which is why the co-sponsor is Shop Local Raleigh, a division of the merchants’ association.

The parade is so popular that two TV stations have been battling over who has the rights to air it.

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On Saturday, the event came off without a hitch, delivering Santa and Mrs. Claus as promised for another year.

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