(PHOTOS) Parade Tradition Continues Monday As Memories Of Its Beginning Fades PDF Print E-mail
News - Local News
Friday, 01 December 2017 10:37
As hundreds of people gather along the downtown Summerville corridor Monday evening, they’ll be partaking in a ritual that is not only decades old, but one that has an uncertain start date.
The annual Christmas parade begins at 7 p.m. and is expected to draw 1,000-plus visitors. The parade’s popularity has been a constant over the years, according to newspaper articles. Crowd size estimates have been as high as “5,000-plus,” according to The Summerville News archives.
Despite its popularity, the history of the parade has its own mystery. Local historians are not sure when it started.
“My first memory of it was back in the mid-1960s,” local historian Steve Stricklin said. “I’ve never seen any pictures [from the parade] before the 1950s.”
A survey of newspapers from the late 1940s fails to mention a Christmas parade. A group known as the Summerville Retail Merchants Association would string colored Christmas lights along the downtown corridor to celebrate the Yule season.
It might have been this group that started the annual parade. 
“The Retail Merchants at that time were an active group,” said Sue Spivey, a former executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce.
The conception of the parade might have started out of economic motives, according to local historians. One article stated downtown businesses would remain open after the parade, so people could shop.
“Make sure to get a copy of next week’s The Summerville News for more about Santa Claus, the parade and the thousands of bargains the local merchants will offer,” a news article from the 1950s stated.
Newspaper archives suggest the first Christmas parade was held at 6 p.m. on Dec. 11, 1953. A full banner headline running across the top of the front page states, “Santa Coming to Town Friday.”
“Bring the children to see Santa Claus in person. They will get the thrill of their lives,” the article stated.

Although that edition contains the first reference to a parade, it’s not certain if another Christmas parade was held in the 1940s or earlier.
The author of the 1953 article provided no clues if this was the first parade or a continuation. Words like “first-ever” or “new” never appeared in that article. 
Despite the article’s vagueness, the event was well attended and encouraged the Retail Association to have another one the next year. 
That following year’s article created more doubt than answers about the parade’s starting date. Whether it was intended to sensationalize the upcoming 1954 parade or not, the announcement created doubt.
“. . . Slated to be the biggest Christmas parade in the history of Chattooga County,” the 1954 article states.
If the author intended the word “history” to mean one year or many is unknown. Stricklin, in his years of studying the county’s history, believes 1953 could be the starting date, even though there isn’t concrete proof. If that date is correct, then Monday night will mark the 64th year for the parade.
Articles throughout that span shows the parade being held on various dates and times. The longest running tradition, however, is for the parade to start at 7 p.m. on the first Monday in December. In the 1970s and earlier, the parade was held at various times. For example:
* In 1963 it took place at 11 a.m. on a Saturday.
* In 1964 it took place at 2 p.m. on a Saturday.
* In 1973, it took place in November and on a Friday.
* It was at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday in 1952.
Even the sponsor of the event has changed. The Retail Merchants controlled the parade until 1973 when the Chattooga County Civic Organization took over. The Summerville Merchant Association faded and gave way to a group that went beyond the city limits. 
“They were pushing to get outside people involved. It was to incorporate the whole county, not just Summerville,” Spivey said.
Somewhere along the way, the Civic Organization handed over the parade responsibilities to the Chattooga County Chamber of Commerce. Then in the 2000s, the chamber gave the duties to the City of Summerville.
Time has also changed other aspects of the parade. The first few years, the parade started on the south end, traveled north, and then did a U-turn and came back through town. Now the parade travels in one direction – northbound.
Another change is Santa came to town on the back of a fire truck for many years. Now Santa has his own float; thanks to the Summerville Police Department.
Santa and Smokey the Bear are about the only two characters that have remained a constant at the parade. Back in the 1950s, parades featured a different set of characters. Those included:
* Ole King Cole
* Pinocchio
* Jack and Jill
* Wizard of Oz.
Another difference in the parade is social media. The parade will be video recorded and photographed in whole and in part by literally hundreds of people along the parade route. 
Some of the details for this year’s parade include:
World War II POW and Air Force veteran Leo Lanier will serve as Grand Marshal.
The city encourages church groups, civic organizations, clubs, schools, and business to participate with floats and various parade entries. Trophies will be awarded by the Summerville Recreation Department for the top three float entries and prize monies in the amount of $250 for first place; $100 for second place; and, $75 for third place will be awarded by Summerville Main Street.
The parade entry fee is $25 and forms are available now at the Summerville Recreation Department. To register as a participant or for additional information contact the Summerville Recreation Department at 706-859-0910.
Parade Timeline: 
5:30 p.m. - Small floats arrive at high school staging area; 
6 p.m. - Marching/Walking units line up at Ingles parking lot near U.S. 27 - All big trucks and tractor trailers line up at Recreation Dept. ball field parking lot; 
6:30 p.m. - Horses should be lined up at tennis court area - All horse trailers to park at AGL parking lot; 
6:30 p.m. - All units in position and floats will be judged; 
6:45 p.m. - Units pull out of Chattooga High School lot; 
7 p.m. - Parade begins.

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