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A LOOK FROM INSIDE THE WILMINGTON JAYCEES CHRISTMAS PARADE


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9:30 am, Nov. 25, 2017

The Mayor’s Float of the Wilmington Jaycees Christmas Parade down Market Street

Sunlight was in short supply and high demand as a wintry chill ushered Wilmington into the holiday season last Saturday morning. Outside the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center on King Street, crowds gathered to prepare for the Wilmington Jaycee’s 54th Annual Christmas Parade. We joined them.

A dance team clad in black tights and tinsel skirts is practicing their routine under a fluttering Delaware flag. Grey-haired men in suits and festive bow ties are gathered in a tight circle, flags in hand, masonic chains around their necks. Dickensian children from the Wilmington Drama League wander the streets in top hats and urchin wear. Here, the Delaware Showstoppers. Over there, No Limit Cheerleading. Everywhere, the sounds of the Essence Legacy Drill Team.

And on another corner of the sidewalk, a small group of city employees have just gotten the news: The mayor is sick. Really sick. They’re on their own, and it’s time to go.

Dan Sanchez, the mayor’s digital and social media manager, leads the group to the corner of King and 4th, where they’ll board the patriotic float, the first float in the parade. One problem: “I don’t see a patriotic float. Do you see a patriotic float?”

The confusion is short-lived. Fifteen minutes later, one patriotic float pulls up to King. Climbing on board: Shefon Taylor from the Office of Cultural Affairs, Jeff Flynn from the Office of Economic Development, Steve Martin from the Wilmington Housing Partnership and more … along with wives, children, nieces and nephews of the mayor’s staff. There’s a 15-or-so person float limit, so Communication Specialist Paul Ford Jr. decides to walk alongside.

Everyone is a float rookie. It’s a steep climb from King to Market on Fourth Street – way steeper when you’re standing on an open platform, and way, way, steeper when you’re standing on an open platform while tentatively exercising your waving hand.

“All at the same time now!” “You have to earn it!”

The turn onto Market comes with the first straight-on view of the parade route, with crowds lining the street from the very start.

“I didn’t realize there would be people all the way up Market,” whispers Shefon.

People are waving. People are cheering. A sea of cell phones is visible, snapping pictures. One thing you learn while riding a float in a parade is that there are a lot of very fancy cell phone covers in the world.

A child calls out to Paul: “Hey, I have that same hat!”

He waves back while wearing a Santa hat emblazoned with the word “naughty”: “It’s a popular hat.”

Four blocks, six blocks, seven ... their waves have now become more natural, more heartfelt. For those who work in government, it’s not every day that your constituents applaud you on the streets, cheer and offer thumbs up as you ride by. Maybe it’s the season. Maybe it’s only today. Maybe the air is just filled with good cheer and the generosity of the holiday spirit. It’s a good day.

After the grandstand and the turn onto 11th and back onto King, they disembark.

“It’s amazing how much joy just a simple parade brings to people’s faces,” Jeff Flynn says, after. “You know, they’re expecting the mayor, there’s no mayor, and they still waved anyway. Who am I? They don’t know me from Adam. But, you know, I grew up here. I was in the parade once, in 1975. It’s exactly what I remember from when I was a kid.”

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