STORY BY JOYANNA LOVE
PHOTOS BY JOYANNA LOVE AND CONTRIBUTED
One of the highlights of Christmas in Clanton is the parade hosted by the Rotary Club of Chilton County and the city of Clanton.
The parade is the first Friday in December at 5:30 p.m., which means it is Dec. 2 this year, but planning for the event begins long before.
Club president Brandy Clackley said the public interest in the parade “starts earlier and earlier every year.”
This year, parade registration was set up at the end of August.
The parade was originally hosted by the Jaycees. When the club dissolved, the city asked the Rotary Club if they would take on the project.
Rotarian Roger Yeargan said getting the float ready for Santa is always a highlight.
“We are in the process of trying to get the float rebuilt, and we have partnered with (LeCroy) Career Technical Center,” Yeargan said.
LCTC has agreed to have students rebuild the float if the club provides the materials.
“The current float is about 15 years old, and the wood is in not the best condition,” Yeargan said.
The LCTC team will be repairing the float for this year with plans for a new float in the future.
“They are going to come up with a design and share a couple ideas with us, and we are going to pick out the new design,” Yeargan said.
Each year, Santa in his sleigh is always at the end of the parade. For the past several years, Santa was portrayed by Rotarian Jimmy Smith.
Each float is required to have some element that embraces the Christmas theme.
The night of the parade each of the Rotary members volunteer to get all of the vehicles, floats and bands in order for the parade. Placement is on a first come, first serve basis.
“I think my favorite part is just watching all of the different companies, churches and everyone in the community who comes together and builds their own because theirs are creative, and it is amazing to see what they come up with,” Clackley said.
The club also chooses a grand marshal each year.
The city of Clanton provides the prize money for the float contest each year. First place receive $150, second receives $100 and third receives $50. Clackley said she was thankful for the support of the city and all of those who participate each year.
Yeargan said some in the community take the float contest “very seriously,” and “they really put a lot into it.”
“The competition is fierce,” Clackley said.
Community member Ann Mims has served as a float judge for the event for several years. She said she has enjoyed meeting the teams that construct the floats and hearing how they were inspired to build what they did.
“They all have a good story, usually,” Mims said.
One year, a church developed a float all from items they already had.
“It was pretty,” Mims said. “It had a porch and there were rocking chairs on the porch … they used what they had, but they did an excellent job with it.”
The judging takes place before the parade starts, usually before the sun sets, but Mims said she always keeps in mind how the float would look at night during the parade.
A lot of light and a lot of color are two qualities of a successful parade float.
Mims focuses “on the art of it.”
“Some of them go back to the early days, some are kind of future days,” Mims said. “I like the realistic ones that look like what you would see now, the church buildings and all of that.”
A “wow factor” is something that sets a float apart. This was the case for the winning float last year by Way of the Cross Church of God in Verbena.
The float depicted Jesus and his disciples in a boat decorated with festive Christmas lights.
“It had all the movement in it … the rolling waves,” Mims said.
She said the mechanics behind the float were impressive.
It was the first year the church had a float in the parade, but it was inspired by one Pastor Terry Hicks had done at a previous church in another county.
“I just love seeing people’s faces, and seeing the kids’ faces light up, but most of all, I enjoyed seeing people getting the word about Jesus,” Sharron Gray of Way of the Cross said.
Youth Pastor Johnny Gray said putting the float together took about three weeks.
“It’s just fun getting together and working on the float, having laughs,” Vickie Hicks said.
She said she also enjoyed the reactions to the float.
The mechanical piece took some trial and error.
“It took a lot to slow it down to get it to move like we wanted it,” Johnny Gray said.
This year, Terry Hicks said the
church is continuing to use the float as a means to tell about Jesus and are taking inspiration from the classic song “Midnight Cry” by Gold City.
A church was the focal point of the Hatley Health Care float, which won second place, last year.
“(It was) almost all white, had the white lights,” Mims said. “It looked very elegant.”
Amy Daniel of Hatley Health Care said the float took four to six weeks to complete.
“We wanted something to reflect what Christmas is all about and the true meaning of Christmas,” Daniel said.
The float was also a way to honor the residents who had passed away from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
“We had a lot of red birds on our float and that was in remembrance of those that we have lost,” Daniel said.
She enjoyed the opportunity
to work together with co-workers on the project. The church on the float was constructed by the maintenance department from locally purchased materials.
“There is nothing better than seeing the residents look out the doors and the windows and see it as we go by,” Daniel said.
She also enjoyed seeing the community’s reaction to the floats during the parade.
Last year, the YMCA of Chilton County placed third with its Toy Story theme.
YMCA CEO Lori Patterson said it was the group’s fourth year to participate. Each year, a small committee brainstorms ideas for a float design that will incorporate Christmas, the mission of the YMCA and appeal to children. Last year, the new Toy Story movie was what the children were talking about, so the committee thought it would be a good theme.
Patterson said she enjoys seeing everyone at the parade get excited about the float and hearing the children who come to the Y talk about it afterward. Each year, it takes about three weeks as time allows to construct the float.
Last year was the largest Christmas parade since the Rotary Club took on the project with 150 floats and vehicles participating. Each participant is asked to make a donation, which the Rotary Club gives to the local Department of Human Resources to help provide Christmas presents for children in foster care. Collecting donations during the parade began about three years ago, and has become a highlight of the parade for Yeargan.
In 2021, the event raised $2,520. The Rotary Club matched that with existing funds to donate a total of $5,040.