This makes at least 20 times that I’ve brought you news about the highlight of Woodstock’s biggest Christmas season event. I apologize to faithful longtime readers, and hope you’ll bear with me yet again as I walk newcomers through the back story.
In 1997, in observance of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the city charter by Georgia’s legislature on Dece. 8, 1897, the centennial celebration included a parade and gala on Dec. 6. Throughout 1997 there had been other commemorative events and programs. The 4th of July parade included a float with a huge birthday cake. There were T-shirts and Coca-Cola bottles, a time capsule, publication of a history book and a cookbook, plaques on historic buildings, and the very first mural on the wall of the Wayne Lester building. The mural featured the logo of the Woodstock Centennial Commission, a group of citizens who had organized to plan and carry out a variety of activities to involve all of Woodstock’s residents in the celebration. The quilt that was designed and produced is still on display at The Chambers at City Center. The Park is filled with plaques and benches and bricks, and the non-working clock reminiscent of the turn of that other century.
The Centennial’s December parade and festivities were such fun, it seemed only natural to do it again the next year … and the next … and still. Over the years since the Centennial there continues to be interest in the preservation of Woodstock history and heritage. Even though the holidays have taken the spotlight away from the original purpose of the parade, the lead entry in the parade is always a float or vehicle carrying the mayor and the current recipient of the Barbara G. Ingram Citizen Of The Year Award, someone chosen by Preservation Woodstock (the Centennial Commission’s new name) for their interest and devotion to the preservation of Woodstock’s history and heritage. The award is named to honor the memory of Barbara Ingram who served as the group’s secretary for the two years leading up to the celebration. She died in December of 1996, just as the group launched a year of exciting events and projects. Mayor David Rogers established the award as a way to recognize those whose efforts in historic preservation were noteworthy, and to perpetuate annually the importance of the city’s heritage and the preservation of its landmarks and the stories of its people.
The award is presented annually by members of Barbara’s family at the gazebo immediately following the parade.
That first year of what is now called the Christmas Jubilee and Parade of Lights was memorable in at least one way that had nothing to do with the basic purpose of the event. That would be the weather. The parade for many years was held in late afternoon, and by the time darkness fell, we would be back at the park for the ceremony. The change to a lighted parade makes the weather even more important. But the skies were clear for that first event. In fact, there were fireworks over the park, and they seemed to be almost within reach. The air was dry, the wind was brisk. There was yet no gazebo; we had pitched a tent which gave no shelter from the wind. Before the parade began, the temperature had reached a 20-degree high for the day. (I think it set a record that has not been broken.) So our most chilling memories are of freezing. The members of the handbell choir seemed not to be hindered by the cold, and the contagious festive atmosphere kept us warm, at least in spirit. This was before Santa Claus became a focal part of the annual event, so the program was short and sweet. In later years Santa would hit the switch to turn on the tree lights, and children would line up at the gazebo for their conversations with him. Eventually the Parks and Recreation Department would award trophies for special parade entries including one that best exemplifies historic preservation.
The forecast for this year looks much better. Last year’s parade was canceled but many other activities were carried out in The Chambers. Children don’t really care where Santa is. His lap is always inviting, rain or shine.
Apparently the Georgia Legislature was meeting in December during that other century. They couldn’t possibly realize that generations to come would want to celebrate the birthday of Christ or the visit from St. Nicholas at the same time as the anniversary of the signing of the document that created our city. One line in that document might deserve a mention this year: “nor shall the sale of spirituous and intoxicating liquors ever be licensed in this town, but the sale shall be forever prohibited under this charter.” Although our founding fathers might be skeptical, evidence of how things have changed is in our choice of Spencer Nix as this year’s Citizen of the Year. We recognize his efforts and success in rescuing and preserving, as a brewery, a structure in the very heart of the town. We’re making history and each milestone is one for the books. Parade begins at 5:30 p.m. this Saturday, Dec. 6th. Remember, it’s Woodstock’s birthday, No. 122.