Just what goes into a Christmas parade?
Planning begins in the fall and continues until the day of the parade, which is always held on the first Saturday in December, according to Melissa Woody, vice president of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, and co-chair of the parade organizing committee.
Woody is just one of many who makes up the committee of volunteers for the MainStreet Cleveland annual Christmas parade.
“It’s like a circus atmosphere,” said Woody, reflecting on the activities of the parade day.
“There are people riding around on bikes, unicycles, small motorized vehicles … people putting floats together and other activities,” she added.
Safety is a priority for parade participants and organizers, as well as those who will be observing floats, antique automobiles, horses, dignitaries and displays by civic clubs and churches.
More than 15 years ago, Dewey Woody, former Bradley County fire chief, got on board to help with figuring out the safety elements of the parade which now has 200-plus entries and continues to grow.
A fluid plan helps keep confusion to a minimum.
“Through the years, Dewey continues to develop safety features,” she said.
The massive number of participants grows each year as well.
“A few years ago, we began staging the high school bands away from Bradley Central High School where all others stage. There are so many band members and there was so much traffic, it was a safety issue,” she said.
The bands now join the parade at the 3rd Street entrance to the Village Green.
The parade route travels from BCHS to 3rd Street where the bands move in, then to Ocoee Street, turning onto Broad and back toward the school.
Along the route thousands of area residents get to see the lighted displays and other participants.
The route is a few miles long and the floats travel at a slower pace.
“We require each organization and participants to have a representative at a special meeting where they learn tips and procedures,” Woody explained.
“People will sit in the transport vehicles to stay warm at the staging area, then when the parade begins, they may not have enough fuel to make it all the way.”
“We have had people run out of gas during the parade,” she said.
Once parade participants arrive at the staging area, floats are readied, then the parade begins.
“We explain that candy shouldn’t be thrown from the floats to those along the parade route. We want those watching the parade to be safe, too,” she said.
Of course, there is competition as well.
MainStreet officials prepare judging activities while the floats and displays are still at the staging areas.
Judges make their decisions and then awards are presented afterward.
During the “circus” as Woody described it, Bradley Booster clubs sell food and drinks to keep participants going.
“We have continued to streamline the event each year and learn new things to consider for future parades,” Woody said.
“This year, we had 190 vehicles and over 225 types of displays, so at staging, it’s just a show in itself,” she added.
In the past, gates to the staging area opened earlier in the day.
Now gates open just after noon.
Floats are placed as they arrive.
In the past, floats would have preassigned numbers. Groups arrive together.
By 4:30 p.m. on parade day, the horses arrive.
Through streamlining traffic entering the staging area, officials were able to make things flow more smoothly by setting times for arrival.
“Dewey changed the traffic patterns to help ease the area during the heavy traffic times,” Woody said.
Although there were 225-plus displays this year, more than 2,000 people were in the parade and planning and streamlining helped the efforts for the event which has been coordinated by MainStreet since 1994.
“It is amazing to me to see a flat-bed truck or trailer arrive and by parade time, be transformed into a beautiful Christmas display,” Woody said.
“It gets a little nuts on the day of the parade, but it’s a lot of fun,” she added.
“We want to thank you to all of the parade participants for these beautiful floats.
Special thanks to parade co-chairs Dewey and Melissa Woody; Sgt. Mike Moses and the Cleveland Police Department; city of Cleveland Public Works Department; Cleveland/ Bradley Courts Community Service; Bradley County Fire-Rescue Explorers; volunteers; judges Traci Hamilton, Christy Griffith, and Connie Gatlin, and Bradley Central High School for the use of their campus in staging the parade,” MainStreet board members said to organizers.