If you’re looking for ways to jump-start your holiday spirit after the elections, you might want to join the crowd Nov. 18 in downtown Monroe for the annual Union County Christmas Parade.
Estimates of past crowds range from 10,000 to 30,000, said Kim Wolfe, community education coordinator for The Alliance for Children, the nonprofit agency coordinating the parade. The Alliance for Children, formerly Union Smart Start, provides programs and services that benefit Union County children.
Wolfe estimates the parade has been a Union County tradition for about 70 years.
“Typically, on average, we have about 200 entries,” she said. “We end up having close to 2,000 people in the parade, which lasts approximately two hours.”
The parade begins at the corner of Sunset Drive and North Parker Street and ends at the corner of Lancaster Avenue and Washington Street. The hundreds of entries represent businesses, nonprofits and schools – including bands, cheerleaders and other student groups from each of Union County’s high schools.
This year’s parade princess is Weddington High School student Kelcey McClung, who edged out candidates from each of the area’s other high schools. The honor includes a $4,000 scholarship from the Alex Kahle Memorial Scholarship Fund.
The selection was made after each candidate was interviewed by a panel of five judges, and was based on leadership, academic excellence and commitment to community service, Wolfe said.
Parade marshals are Pat Kahle and Jack Hargett, winners of the 2012 Union County Man and Woman of the Year Award.
Miss North Carolina Arlie Honeycutt will be there, sponsored by Couick’s Marine.
There are always a lot of returning favorites, Wolfe said, but two entries usually stand out as crowd-pleasers: “a gentleman who drives an old Andy Griffith car and looks like Howard from the old Andy Griffith show,” and a car from Griffin Motors with no (visible) driver.
The Griffin Motor car “is fascinating to watch because it honks, flashes its lights and carries on, but nobody’s driving it (that you can see),” said Wolfe.
The Alliance for Children float features the parade’s only Santa.
“This year we had a baby calendar contest, and the top 12 babies and their parents get to ride on the float with Santa,” she said.
Five judges give awards in the following categories: best float, best Christian float, best Scouts, best band, and best spirit. Wolfe said Union Academy’s lower school has won the best float for the last six years, and it is the entrant that everyone else wants to beat.
With all of the entries, it can be a challenge getting floats, bands, cars, horses, Shriners and others organized and in position. Wolfe, who’s been overseeing the parade for five years, said she creates a color-coded chart and works closely with volunteer Mike Lee to arrange the entries on five streets before the parade begins.
Mike Lee “has been doing it for 20 years,” she said. “Before he did it, his father did the parade. We’re like a well-oiled machine.”
Not long after the parade, Monroe will gear up for another festive occasion: its annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, when Mayor Bobby Kilgore promises snow.
The ceremony at Main Street Plaza will cap a day of festivities that includes “a downtown open house” with all downtown businesses open for the day, said James Kerr, who sits on several Monroe boards. Vendors will be set up outdoors, and visitors can enjoy live music (including children’s choirs and members of the Union Symphony), carriage and trolley rides, and other forms of entertainment.
According to the Monroe website, live music is scheduled on the plaza’s stage from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., followed by the ceremony at 7 p.m.