JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville hosted its 31st annual Christmas parade Tuesday night, as thousands viewed the pageantry along the route.
Folks started grabbing their spots on the grass and sidewalks around downtown Jacksonville a full hour and a half prior to the 6:30 event.
Waves of decorated vehicles slowly made their way down Pelham Road in an event that lasted approximately one and a half hours.
Multiple surrounding city schools, churches, day cares, and other organizations participated.
“We have about 105 entries, but keep in mind that each one has as many as 1-50 people in it,” said Rita Edwards, longtime organizer of the event. She’s been chairman of the Christmas parade since the very beginning, before Jacksonville even had a parade.
“I had asked one day at a Merchants Association meeting in Jacksonville why they don't have a parade, and they told me that no one wanted to do it,” Edwards said. “It was too hard.”
Edwards dismissed those concerns.
“So I said, all you have to have is a band, children and Santa Claus — what was so hard about that?” Edwards said.“Anyway, 32 years later I am still doing it.”
She said the best part for her is getting to ride at the end of the parade in a golf cart to see all of the children’s faces.
“The whole community — you know what a difference you have made,” Edwards said.
Tuesday, that difference was seen in scores of little hands reaching out for candy raining down onto the street lit by twinkling Christmas lights. Folks young and old waved from cars, trucks, and floats to their friends, neighbors and fellow residents.
One tiny tot seemed to have had his fill of excitement for the evening, as he cozied up and fell asleep on a blanket on the pavement — paying no mind to the scrambling feet around him.
City Mayor Johnny Smith rode in the parade as well. Prior to the event, he told The Star he anticipated a good sized crowd.
“It’s always a big event for us,” Smith said. “We always have a good turnout. The kids really enjoy it.”
Kimberly Waddell, a Jacksonville resident since 2011, said she’s been coming to the parade with her children, Kinsley and Bailey Waddell, for a while.
“Their favorite part is getting the candy,” Waddell said. “But they’re also waiting on Santa Claus. Honestly, it’s the candy and Santa.”
The Jacksonville Police Department assisted in security and directing traffic.
“Our entire department worked the parade last night, which also included some members from the University Police Department,” Jacksonville police Chief Marcus Wood said. “I lead the parade with JSU Chief Michael Barton, and then help close it out by opening the road back up.”