HARTINGTON, Neb. — Karma Schulte knows that nothing — not the pandemic, not even the Grinch — will stop this year’s Candlelight Christmas Parade in Hartington.
Schulte serves as president of the Hartington Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the holiday parade. The 21st annual event begins at 7 p.m. Friday with the route running through downtown Hartington.
For the past two decades, the parade has moved forward regardless of the weather conditions or other challenges. But the pandemic presented an unprecedented situation — including whether even to hold this year’s event as a matter of public health and safety.
“We had a long discussion on what we wanted to do this year. Our first thought was, ‘We just can’t do it this year. There’s no way,’” she said. “There’s the matter of whether people could stand close together on the route. And the idea behind the parade was to promote shopping. We can’t tell people to shop if the businesses aren’t open as usual (that night).”
However, the Chamber members decided the best thing during a pandemic could mean holding the parade, Schulte said. In that way, a tradition was maintained while offering an upbeat moment as a welcome break during a challenging year.
“We said, ‘Let’s put a positive spin on this (pandemic) and go ahead with things as best we can,’” she said. “We wanted to keep things as normal as possible and still do the things that we needed to do during the pandemic.”
Oh, and the Grinch? How does Dr. Seuss’ green villain fit into the scheme of things?
“The parade theme is ‘How the Grinch Tried To Steal Candlelight Christmas,’” Schulte said. “We decided to have fun with it. We’ve had Grinch sightings on Facebook. We’re determined the Grinch won’t steal our Candlelight Christmas fun!”
With the decision made to hold the parade, the next big questions were: Where? How?
The Chamber looked at alternate sites, taking into account the opportunity for social distancing among entries and between spectators.
“We tried to figure out how to make this work,” she said. “We thought, maybe at the sports complex (on the west side of town), but it would become too muddy and messy if we had rain or snow.”
The Chamber members returned to square one, sticking with the usual route but making necessary adjustments for COVID-19 precautions.
“People are able to park on the street along the route. They can sit in their vehicle,” Schulte said. “If you want to be outside your vehicle, it’s up to you. You have to be considerate of others and keep your distance. This year, there won’t be any candy thrown from the parade entries.”
The parade route starts at the schools (Hartington-Newcastle and Cedar Catholic/Holy Trinity) on Broadway Avenue. The entries travel north until arriving downtown at the Bank of Hartington, where they will turn east onto Main Street and head toward the Cedar County Fairgrounds on the edge of town. The route turns on Portland Avenue and goes south.
The route follows a state regulation allowing the parade to cross only one state highway, Schulte said.
“Normally, we would pre-register, but this year we’re taking whoever shows up at the staging area. Anyone is welcome to join,” she said. “As for the parade, we’re a little more limited along the route with vehicles and spectators on both sides of the street. We welcome anything, but when it comes to farm machinery (in the parade), it’ll be a little harder for them to get down the street.”
Past parades have drawn about 60 entries, with spectators coming not only from Cedar County but also southeast South Dakota and from north-central and northeast Nebraska.
“We’ve even had people from Missouri attending the parade while they were in town visiting family,” Schulte said.
The parade will be livestreamed and broadcast for those who choose not to attend the parade because of the pandemic or other reasons, she said. The Cedar County News will stream the parade on Facebook, while Hartelco will broadcast it for viewers. In addition, News Channel Nebraska (NCN) is recording the parade for later viewing.
“We’re asking people who know they will be in the parade to email us something ahead of time about their entry, business or holiday wishes that we can read on NCN,” Schulte said. “In that way, it recognizes the entry and also gives something to read or say as the parade goes along.”
Information can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally, the parade was conceived as a special event promoting the holidays while also benefiting the business community and drawing attention to Hartington, Schulte said.
“We wanted something with a warm, fuzzy feeling, and we said there should be a Candlelight Christmas based on Christmas lights,” she said. “So we started it and have done it annually on the Friday evening preceding Thanksgiving.”
The parade kicks off the holiday shopping season, which has become unusual because of the pandemic, economic slowdown and other reasons, Schulte said. However, she expects more people will shop locally during the pandemic, taking advantage of Hartington’s variety of businesses and services.
The Chamber isn’t focusing just on shopping during the holidays, Schulte said. A silent auction will raise funds with proceeds divided between Cedar County Cares and the Food Pantry. So far, 31 families have been identified in need, she said.
A number of holiday traditions will continue even during the pandemic. They include the city’s lights and decorations, a kids coloring contest and a contest soliciting guesses for “Where Is The Grinch Located?”
In addition, Santa Claus will visit Hartington but at a different time than before and after the Candlelight Christmas Parade. Instead, motorists can visit St. Nick at Felber Park Dec. 12 starting at 1 p.m.
“You can drive through (the park), and Santa gives you candy,” she said. “We did that at Easter and handed out eggs.”
The success of those events show the importance of maintaining traditions during the pandemic, Schulte said.
“We’ll take (COVID-19) precautions, but it’s still good for our community to do these things,” she said.
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