By Derrick Jean-Baptiste
Red and green lights adorned downtown Lakeland as thousands of people waiting with bated breath for the festivities to begin. The 119 floats that would soon make their way down the filled streets of downtown Lakeland waited in line for their turn to go, lighting up like individual beacons on the usually dark area.
At almost 7 p.m. right on the dot, the natural noises of a large crowd were eventually drowned out by an explosion that ripped across the skies as the massive fireworks percussion began. As the reverberations of the fireworks died down and the opening notes of classic Christmas music began, the 2016 Lakeland Christmas Parade kicked off.
The 36th Annual Lakeland Christmas Parade occurred on Thursday, Dec. 1. The theme of this year’s parade was “Miracle on Main Street.” The theme of the parade is, of course, a homage to the classic 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street.”
In this film a man with twinkling eyes, and a rather ample belly, is hired as a Manhattan Macy’s department store Santa. He claims his name is Kris Kringle, and soon fills everyone around him with Christmas spirit – except for his boss, Doris Walker, who’s raising her daughter Susan to not believe in Santa. But when Kris is declared insane and put on trial everyone’s faith is put to the test as old and young alike face the age-old question: Do you believe in Santa Claus?
With this premise in mind, the city planners, as well as the event coordinators, attempted to recreate a Manhattan, Christmas, within the relatively tiny town of Lakeland, Fla.
The parade kicked off at The Lakeland Center, making its way downtown and along Main Street, our very own version of the titular 34th street, curving around almost the entirety of Downtown before returning back to the Lakeland Center.
With over 50,000 in attendance, the 2016 Lakeland Christmas parade has been hailed as one of the biggest yet.
“With all the terrible things that my family and I have gone through this year, this Christmas Parade is a welcome distraction,” Rebecca Rubio a local Lakelander mother of four said.
Rubio represents a multitude of people who utilize the Christmas parade as a means to distract them from the stress and worry that accumulate throughout the holiday season.
According to Rubio, attending the Lakeland Christmas Parade is a new tradition for her and her family. A tradition she hopes is able to last for years to come.
“While Christmas in my family may not mean giving gifts around a fireplace or putting up a giant tree, I know these little traditions will help mark this time of year as something special that my family can remember for the rest of the lives. Well that’s the plan anyway,” Rubio said.
For many, in the large crowd, the parade meant more than just celebrating the holiday season it was also a way to remember good memories they have shared with people who may no longer be around.
“We have went to every Christmas Period since it’s start,” Daphne Stewart said. Stewart attended the parade alongside her husband of 50 years, Greg Stewart.
“We took our kids to this parade and now we even take our grandkids, hopefully we live long enough to see our great grandkids,” Stewart said.
When pressed a bit about there experiences with the parade, Stewart went on to state that at least for her she’s experiencing the parade for multiple people. “I’m experiencing this holiday season not only just for myself, but also for everyone I grew up with as well.”
For Stewart and her family as well as for Rubio and her family, the Lakeland Christmas Parade transcends past the holidays and has reserved a special place not just in their memories but in their heart as well.