Columbus Christmas parade: Rain dampens half-century tradition

December 6, 2011 11:52:00 AM

Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]


For many people in Columbus, the annual Christmas parade has become synonymous with frosty fingers, hot cocoa and family memories. This year, there will be a new memory: the second time in history the event has been canceled due to inclement weather.  


The parade was scheduled to take place Monday night at 7 p.m., but after watching the weather forecast and consulting with officials at Columbus Air Force Base, organizers at Main Street Columbus Inc. decided the threat of heavy rain and wind was too high to take chances with public safety.  


The parade will not be rescheduled due to logistics issues with road closings and participant schedules. 


Amber Brislin, director of Main Street Columbus Inc., sat in her office Monday afternoon surrounded by costumes -- Dora the Explorer, Scooby-Doo and Mario -- the organization had rented for the occasion. 


She had been fielding phone calls from concerned school officials and other participants all day, but she held off on canceling the event, "trying to remain optimistic."  


Though some participants expressed disappointment, she said people understood, for the most part.  


"It's one of those unavoidable things," Brislin said. "There's nothing we can do about the weather. ... We hate that we had the tough decision to make, but we hope everyone has a Merry Christmas." 


More than 100 groups had registered to participate in the parade, with businesses paying $50 per entry and nonprofit organizations paying $35.  


Groups can contact Brislin for a refund, or they can have their entry fee applied to next year's parade.  


Main Street Inc. is taking a financial hit as well, expecting to lose nearly $1,500 due to the cancellation.  


It was the right decision though, said Columbus Pilot Club President Jane Lee.  


The Pilot Club organized the event for 20 years before passing it over to Main Street Inc. a few years ago.  


Back in the 1990s, when Lee was the parade chairwoman, she made the decision to carry on with the parade, even though local weather forecasters predicted "the bottom was going to fall out" just as people began lining up. 


"Sure enough, it did," Lee recalled Monday afternoon. "I regretted it when I got home." 


The parade was canceled and rescheduled for the following night.  


"Sometimes it has been really, really cold. Then sometimes it would be so hot, we'd just be comfortable in short sleeves," Lee said. "That's just Mississippi weather." 


The news about the cancellation didn't come as a surprise to Pat McCluney, a volunteer with The Arc of Lowndes County, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education, socialization and community inclusion for citizens with developmental or intellectual disabilities.  


McCluney said she and other volunteers spent the past month working on their float for the parade and they were proud of the Nativity scene they had planned. But as they watched the weather forecast this weekend, they had a feeling it was going to rain on their parade, literally. 


"We had gathered up a bunch of presents and stuff like that to put on there, with the crib and the baby in it and a Christmas tree and lights," McCluney said. "But we pretty much figured they would cancel it. Most of (our participants) weren't going to be there anyway because of the rain. We'll put it up till next year." 


She said as a child, she always enjoyed the parade, especially hearing the school bands and seeing the dance teams.  


"It's nice," she said. "It's really something to see." 


But while some were all dressed up with nowhere to go Monday night, others had a contingency plan, including Grand Marshal Sam Kaye, his wife, Carolyn, and their children and grandchildren -- many of whom came into town just for the event.  


Carolyn Kaye said though her husband was "tickled" to be named this year's grand marshal, she felt it was a good decision to cancel the parade. Instead, they planned to follow through with the rest of their evening activities, including attending a Christmas party at a friend's house.  


Just having the children and the grandchildren home for the holidays was enough, and though they were disappointed the parade won't be part of this year's memories, it won't dampen the spirit of Christmas, Kaye said

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.