There is a lot of work to be done behind the fun of the annual Christmas Parade

It will soon be time for the annual Christmas Parade in Swedesboro on Saturday Nov. 25 beginning at 1 p.m. The parade will begin at the Walter Hill School and travel down Kings Highway to Trinity Episcopal Church.

Each year, parade watchers are treated to a variety of things to see from holiday themed floats made by local businesses and community groups, dancers and tumblers, costumed characters, tractors, dogs, horses, and a long line of fire trucks from Woolwich and neighboring fire companies to escort the man of the season, Santa, into town. And of course, there is the candy, lots, and lots of candy.

Parades don’t run themselves, though. Christmas carols might be ringing out, but behind the scenes of the parade there is a lot of hard work being done by the Greater Swedesboro Business Association and a team of volunteers.

According to Dan Stephens of the GSBA, planning for each year’s parade begins immediately after the parade with assessment of how things went and what can be improved for next year. For instance, Stephens said that after last year’s parade, it was decided they would like additional floats.

CHRISTMAS PARADE 2022 featured many different floats from local businesses such as Long Lane’s train, Dee Dots and dancers. The parade is sponsored and organized by the Greater Swedesboro Business Association. This year like last, Center Square Shop Rite will be another sponsor. — Photos by Karen E. Viereck, Editor/Publisher

To give an incentive, they decided to offer a $500 cash prize for the parade favorite float. This year parade watchers will now be able to vote on their favorite participants in categories like antique/specialty car, animal group, band, business, cheer, dance, family, float, and pageant entries.

Postcards with a QR code will be handed out to parade watchers. The code will allow them to go online to vote. Favorite float wins a $500 cash prize, and the other groups win trophies.

In the warmth of August heat, the Christmas parade planning begins in earnest. Invitations are sent out to participants, Santa’s “helper” is contacted, and volunteers are grouped and given their assignments. The assignments could include anything from putting up posters, yard signs, and road closure notices.

Stephens said the volunteers come from everywhere – residents, community groups, and scouts.

Stephens said that over 1,000 people participated in last year’s parade. GSBA Vice President Laura Dunn’s team’s task is to get the 1,000 participants in the staging area safely, organized, and in line to step off at the right moment.

One of the popular floats year after year is the Long Lane Appliances train. According to owner, Bill Cabana, the train has been running in the parade for the past 25 years.

Cabana said the train, which took a year to build, has been a major hit. “We built it for the kids, but senior citizens get more of a kick [out of it] than the kids.” He said that at the end of the parade people can come sit in the train, and Long Lane gives out some engineer hats for youngsters.

Spreading the holiday spirit at the parade extends to some of the Swedesboro Councilmembers. Mayor Tom Fromm and Councilperson Dave Flaherty have been donning elf costumes and walking up and down the parade route for a several years. Fromm said they prefer this to riding in a parade car.

“In reality at least half the people along the route don’t know we are the mayor and council president, so we get some interesting looks from people wondering who these giant elves are,” stated Fromm. Councilwoman Diane Hale and Borough Clerk Lois Elder do their part by organize people into character outfits to hand out candy along the route.
“As with every event in town, it’s the volunteers who make it all happen,” Fromm added. “I personally look forward to the parade each year just to see the smiles on everyone’s face and especially the kids. It also is a great example of how Swedesboro maintains our small town feel and traditions.”

“It is one of the coolest things that happens in our area each year, and I really want to thank the GSBA and the sponsors, local businesses, dance studios, local businesses and others for making it a great day,” added Fromm.

Dee Dots Dance and Baton Twirlers have been participating in the Christmas Parade for 53 years. “The vibrant atmosphere and the holiday music of the festive season create a sense of joy and fun for all,” said Director Justine Britton.        

The Dee Dots performers wear holiday inspired costumes. The youngest dancers get to ride on a float, but others perform along the way.

Dee Dots, as well as all the other performing participants, stop along the route and perform for the crowds. About 10 years ago, Britton recalled, their sound system stopped working halfway through the parade. That didn’t stop the young dancers. They continued to do their routines with the encouragement of the crowds.

“The show must go on,” she said.

Stephens said the Christmas parade used to be about 45 minutes long and is now about 80 minutes long. In prior years, it ran in conjunction with Lunch with Santa and the Swedesboro Historical Society’s Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in the evening. Upon the passing of Wendy Beckett who was at the time of her passing, SBA Vice President, the board discontinued the lunch due to the amount of work and volunteers needed for it.

Beckett and her family had been involved in the parade for many years, not only in the planning but also participating with the Swedesboro Hardware (True Value) float. According to her son, Cliff Beckett, the float design and construction was led by his mother and family with the help of the store employees.

In 2022, GSBA sought parade sponsors for the first time. “With the generous donations of many businesses, the parade was able to expand the number of bands that perform,” Stephens said. This year the parade is sponsored by ShopRite of Center Square and the Zallie Community Foundation.

This year’s Parade Grand Marshall will be Thomas Drayton, TV News personality for Fox29 and Woolwich Township resident.

“We think this is one of the best parades in South Jersey and love the way our entire community comes together for the event,” said Stephens.

This year as always, the Swedesboro Economic Development Committee will hand out Whopon books along the parade route. The books contain coupons from local merchants. Be sure to look for the book and take advantage of the coupons.

And who knows, there might be a few new and special mascots this year!

It was estimated that over 5,000 people lined Kings Highway to watch the parade last year, so be sure to get to your favorite viewing spot early and don’t forget to bring bags for your children to collect their candy.

By Karen E. Viereck, Editor/Publisher

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