By Jean Redstone
This is doldrum time. The presents are opened and played with, the lights are coming down and so is the tree, the New Year has been toasted and the cookies consumed. Only the fruitcake still offers a taste of the season and only because it refuses to crumble.
Wait a minute. There are the cheery memories, and one of them is sure to be the frolic and color of the annual Swedesboro Christmas Parade, awaited every year as the happy sequel to Thanksgiving Dinner.
Lauren Dunn from the Greater Swedesboro Business Association, which organizes and executes the parade, has chaired the annual event the past five years. Her memory still fresh from this year’s success, she shared some of the goings-on that spectators rarely see going on.
So get out your photos from the parade, gather the family, and banish the doldrums with fascinating tidbits about a favorite activity you enjoyed just over a month ago.
- Fact 1: This is an old tradition. Dunn is not sure just when the parade began, but it was at least the mid-80s. “I’ve seen pictures from then,” she said. A dentist started it all. Swedesboro business and community leader Dr. Cornelius Gaither began the tradition with a tree-lighting ceremony, now held at Swedesboro Borough Hall. It’s very popular. In the years Dunn has chaired the parade committee, the number of entries has grown from about 20 to last year’s (2015) 52 entries.
- Fact 2: The Grinch used to be a woman and now lives in Swedesboro. Dunn explained: “ When I started, I added the Grinch,” she said. “The first year it was my sister but the past four years it’s been Jeff Hale. He gets to take the costume home. It lives at his house now.”
- Fact 3: There are paid parade participants. For example, said Dunn, “We have mummers come from out of the area and they’re very popular. We will pay for professionals like musicians and singers. The money comes from fundraising by the Business Association and the Swedesboro Economic Development Committee because it helps the town. No tax money is used,” Dunn said. Twice.
- Fact 4: There was an actual real queen on one of the floats. And the queen was pretending to be a princess. The princess was Anna, singing beautifully from the back of a pickup decorated with Disney’s “Frozen” scenes. Princess Anna was standing next to her “sister” Queen Elsa. But Anna is Amanda Peacock in real life and Amanda, 16, of Williamstown, was named Miss Gloucester County Outstanding Teen 2015 — a beauty queen! Confused yet?
- Fact 5: Santa had two wives. “There are certain rules we have,” Dunn said. “And one is that you can’t have a Santa on your float. I’ll let you have Mrs. Claus but not Santa.” The inevitable happened. “We ended up with two Mrs. Clauses this year. But one was with two goats and everyone was looking at the goats walking with an elf so maybe no one noticed.” Or maybe they did and people are still wondering…?
- Fact 6: You can bring the family. Literally. A family can join the parade, with float and all, as a Woolwich family did this year. But no Santa. And maybe you should count Mrs. Claus participants before you bring one.
Fact 7: Santa’s a union man. It’s not that he’s in a union suit, although maybe he is under his red and fur-trimmed clothes. It’s that he belongs to the Santa Union. “He’s the real deal,” Dunn said, “Background-checked and all.” Santa, who has been gracing the parade for three years now, was asked to participate after glowing reports of his visit to a Lunch With Santa at Rode’s Fireside restaurant. “He’s a beautiful Santa,” Dunn said. “Real beard and altogether a great guy.” She refused to reveal the name he goes by when he’s not at the North Pole.
Fact 8: Reindeer got paid to clean up after horses. This is another “queen” fact of sorts. Various rodeo queens rode their mounts in the parade and the crowd loved them. Not so much the participants following. “We have to have people clean up after the horses,” Dunn said. “Usually the daughter of a friend will do this, but this year she didn’t want her friends to see her mucking the streets.” (She’s about 14. You know. THAT age!) “We asked around, scouts, volunteers, put it on Facebook. Nobody would do it. Then Fulton Bank offered $50 to anyone who would clean the streets.” So if you saw someone dressed like a reindeer, green hoodie, antlers, and, as Dunn put it, “Whatever wasn’t covered in costume was covered in makeup,” that reindeer was shoveling the manure “in the spirit of Christmas, but was not recognizable,” Dunn chuckled.
Enjoy the memories. Dunn will. She’ll use them when she begins planning the 2016 parade at the height of summer heat in August. Here’s wishing her — and you — another festive Christmas Parade.
— Photos by Karen E. Viereck, Editor/Publisher