You could see it in the eyes of little children and big ones. The Salem Christmas Parade makes little kids of us all again, no matter what your age.
It started with 9-year-old Brenden Steele turning the switch to light the Salem Christmas Tree in the parking lot of the Salem Farmers’ Market. The 40-foot-tall evergreen came to life with oohs and aahs from the crowd, who then migrated over to Main Street to watch anxiously for the first Salem Police red-and-blue lights signaling the parade was coming.
December 6 was shirt-sleeve weather, or, as Mayor Randy Foley dubbed it, “beach weather.” Council member Jane Johnson later joked about city officials activating the dome over Salem. Rain had been forecast, but the first drops held off until five minutes after Santa passed the official reviewing stand. That was where Salem-Roanoke County Chamber of Commerce judges kept track of entries that caught their eyes.
Meanwhile, tiny children sat on their dads’ and uncles’ shoulders or snuggled into laps to get a good view. Pug dogs Frank and Buggy sat comfortably watching the parade on the lap of Jennifer Fitzgerald of Salem. The only thing that caused Frank to bark was the bass drums of the Glenvar High School Marching Highlanders.
Not even a 30-foot inflated and lighted “Bad Boy” bulldog on the Roanoke Golf Carts float caused the dogs to blink.
“We take them everywhere in public,” Fitzgerald said.
There were gap-toothed little Cub Scouts, Brownies, older Boy Scouts, church groups, HopeTree Family Services students from HopeTree Academy who proudly marched behind the metal scale model of the 611 steam train they made, Kazim Klowns and a new float of Kazim “Beach Bums.” One float that almost went too fast for bystanders to appreciate the full effect was the Salem High School Latin Club with its “Trojan reindeer.”
Ministry in Motion’s praise team dancers got the crowd going with their synchronized dancing for the Lord, even though their music malfunctioned.
Some church groups had nativity scenes. Twirlers in the Southernettes tossed and caught fire batons, while younger ones twirled flashlight-tipped batons.
Military units marched proudly by. Little cheerleaders yelled for their teams. Fire trucks and rescue squad vehicle passed by to cheers, but without sirens. They’re not allowed in the Salem Parade, and neither are horses, nor throwing candy, both for obvious safety reasons to keep children from running in front of vehicles.
There was something to intrigue everyone. Enormous front-end loaders and other construction equipment were all shined up for the parade. One local minister who asked not to be quoted by name quipped, “I think I understand the Salem Christmas Parade now: ‘Big trucks and big tires mean Jesus is coming.’ ”
Salem Rotary Club President Sam Carter, riding with his lady, Lonna, summed up the parade: “This was such a fun experience, from working with the guys to riding in the parade, seeing all those kids’ faces light up!!