Christmas parade gives way to market

Published 12:34 pm Wednesday, September 21, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Smithfield Christmas parade was moved from its traditional second Saturday in December to make way for the Christmas Evening Market.

Breakfast with Santa, hosted by the Smithfield Kiwanis, will remain on the second Saturday in December, while the Christmas parade moves to Dec. 17 — eight days before Christmas.

The parade and breakfast have traditionally been held on the same Saturday morning, and families have participated in first the breakfast, then the parade.

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The parade was moved because Isle of Wight tourism wanted to use what it considers the optimal shopping weekend for its Christmas Evening Market, said Amy Musick, director of The Smithfield Center. mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Parade participants were notified weeks ago of the change, but the Smithfield Town Council has not formally reviewed the change, which would require street closures. The application is expected to go to a council committee at the end of October and the full council at its Nov. 1 meeting, Musick said.

The Christmas parade has been held on the second Saturday in December for decades. The event was founded and for years sponsored by the now-defunct Jaycees. Each year, it draws a crowd of thousands to downtown Smithfield.

And for more than a decade, Breakfast with Santa was the prelude for families of small children planning to attend the Christmas parade. For $5, families could load up on pancakes, eggs and other breakfast favorites, have a talk with Santa, grab a photo and then head off to the parade downtown.

Kiwanis President Connie Chapman, who is also on the Smithfield Town Council, said the breakfast event isn’t a huge fundraiser, but is an event for families in the community. The breakfast typically attracts about 400 people. Proceeds go to fund the Kiwanis toy store, which purchases Christmas gifts for needy children in Isle of Wight County.

When the Kiwanis leadership found out the date was changed, the club checked to see if Breakfast with Santa could also be moved to continue partnering with the parade. However, The Smithfield Center, which Breakfast with Santa is held each year, was already booked on the 17th, Chapman said, “We were miffed … we were shocked.”

Chapman said they thought about cancelling the Center event and moving it to another location, but decided to stick with Dec. 10 and go it alone without the parade.

Musick, who is also in Kiwanis, said the club is worried about attendance, but decided to add a new feature this year — a secret Santa area where children can purchase inexpensive gifts for family and friends.

Winslow said she had heard from parents how difficult it was to take children to both the breakfast and parade.

“They (the children) become little devils,” she said.

The disruption is similar to what Christian Outreach faced when it learned in August that tourism was adding its Vintage Market to the roster of Town and Country Day events on Oct. 8.

For more than two decades, Souper Saturday was held on the second Saturday in October.

The day, which has evolved into Town and Country Day, was already loaded up with the Hog Jog and the Farmers Market. The addition of the Vintage Market, predicted to bring thousands of visitors downtown, led Christian Outreach to consider changing the location or the day. Organizers said the growing traffic was causing a decrease in Souper Saturday attendance. In the end, Christian Outreach moved Souper Saturday to Oct. 15 as a stand-alone event. Like the Kiwanis, organizers are concerned about attendance, but hope the event continues to be supported by the community.

Souper Saturday is when local churches donate pots of soup for a community-wide buffet meal. The proceeds help the needy in Isle of Wight pay their heating bills in the winter.

Musick said the Christmas parade date was changed at the beginning of the year in response to the pile up of events last December that caused traffic backups and confusion.

Last year, the Christmas evening market, the Woman’s Club Christmas tree lighting, a pre-opening of the Smithfield Winery, the opening of a play at the Smithfield Little Theatre and a toy train exhibit — all the same evening and within blocks of each other — led to what one organizer called a “nightmare.”

The decision to move the parade was made after a discussion on how to better manage the evening Christmas market, Winslow said.

Tourism wanted to move the parade to the first Saturday in December, but that was already taken by the homes tour and antique show, Winslow said.

 “We’ve been blessed with so much success in our (market) events, and this year our main focus is learning how to manage that success,” Winslow said.

Smithfield Mayor Carter Williams was unaware last week that the parade date had changed. Williams is also a member of Kiwanis and can be found in the kitchen the morning of Breakfast with Santa whipping up pancakes.

“It’s another kink in the planning and scheming,” he said, naming Souper Saturday as another example.

“I don’t know the best way. You can’t satisfy everyone,” he said.

Meredith Parks with Southside Dance Studio said she learned of the parade date change in July when she received the paperwork to participate in the parade.

The change is a mixed bag, she said.

It gives the girls more time to rehearse, and because the parade starts at 10 a.m., performers get two minutes instead of one, Parks said. In the past, the parade began at 11 a.m.

However, the 17th is the day after dance students are dismissed for Christmas break and some are leaving town to visit family, so that may limit the number of dancers who can perform, Parks said.

Meanwhile, the Smithfield Woman’s Club changed its tree lighting this year to Friday, Dec. 2 to dovetail with the historic house tour on Dec. 2-4. This year, the tree lighting will be in front of The Smithfield Times building on Main Street.

In response to the perception by many locals that the markets are driving what goes on downtown, Winslow said tourism is considering moving the markets to another location, such as Heritage Park near Windsor.

Winslow said she’s sorry about the perception, but nothing is sacred and everything is on the table for discussion.

Winslow said tourism will evaluate how well Souper Saturday and Breakfast with Santa did this year, and if it didn’t go well, will reevaluate.

Tourism is geared to promoting the vitality of the town and the county, but needs the support of “our own people,” Winslow said.

As for the disruption to local events, Winslow said, “I get it. I hear it.”   {/mprestriction}