At 6:50 on a Friday evening in downtown Harrisonburg, there was a palpable excitement in the air. Throngs of people lined the sidewalks of Main Street; the early arrivals sitting in lawn chairs, while everyone else finding it to be standing room only. Three girls even opened the windows in the apartment above Billy Jack’s and stuck their legs over the edge to get a better view. Small children ran around, adding to the air of giddy chaos. The annual Christmas parade was coming through downtown Harrisonburg.
The parade opened with the Harrisonburg Police Department motor unit, followed by the James Madison University marching band. The HHS JROTC participated in the parade, and the HHS marching band was the final act before Santa himself, playing a festive medley of “Jingle Bells”, “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Sophomore flute player Rachel Cavoto was marching in the parade for the second time.
“I really like looking out and seeing the little kids that come out because they are really excited to see anyone in uniform,” Cavoto said.
The December cold left her unprepared last year, so this year she donned under armor and thick socks. However, the evening was unusually warm, at 50 degrees. Sophomore Anna Dick, who walked in the parade with her Girl Scout troop, appreciated the warmth.
“I thought the weather was wonderful,” Dick said. “I have been in the parade for ten years and I love it every single time because I am with my girl scout family.”
In addition to Girl Scouts and marching bands from many area high schools, the parade featured everything from flaming baton twirlers to clogging groups to the town’s local carriage horses, Sonny and Cher. Many churches and organizations such as the Salvation Army and Our Community Place (whose float feature live goats) participated in the parade. The Harrisonburg City Council rode in on a fire truck and snow plows painted by students at each of the five elementary schools rolled down Main Street. Any group that passed out candy was a favorite for the many children in attendance. Cavoto remembers the days when she was one of those children.
“[The parade] was a lot of fun and I used to collect the candy off the ground,” Cavoto said.
A staple of the community for many years, the parade hails the official beginning of Christmas for many Harrisonburg residents.
“My favorite part is just the experience of all the holiday cheer and festivities,” Dick said.