LUMBERTON — Overcast skies and brief rain didn’t keep people from enjoying Lumberton’s annual Christmas Parade on Saturday morning.
With lawn chairs and umbrellas in tow, thousands of residents and visitors alike lined up to see the floats pass by on Elm Street.
“Every single year is the best,” said Scott Bigelow, who has been coming to see the parade for decades.
This year’s parade was also the biggest, according to Cindy Kern, executive director of the Lumberton Area Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event.
Local beauty pageant winners, politicians, churches, businesses and musicians marched and drove along the parade route, which began at the Robeson County Public Library on Second Street and ended at Biggs Park Mall. Kyle Carter, chancellor of the The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, kicked off the procession as grand marshal.
“We have over 170 units,” said Kern. “They’re all beautiful.”
Kern’s favorite part of the parade is watching the marching bands perform. This year, Lumberton High School, St. Pauls High School, Red Springs High School, Fairmont High School, South Robeson High School and Magnolia Elementary School were in attendance.
A line of more than 20 antique tractors and a float featuring UNCP’s athletics drew the loudest applause from viewers of all ages.
Robeson County Sheriff Kenneth Sealey wouldn’t say if Lumberton, the first town to hold its Christmas parade each year, puts on the best show, but said the event is a great way to “ring in the season.”
“I love them all,” he said. “I’m just glad to be here.” Sealey joined the procession, riding in the back of a red Ford Mustang.
For Kathy and Jerry Blount, Lumberton’s festivities are the clear favorite. They’ve attended parades in other towns, but have made sure to see Lumberton’s for the past 43 years.
“It’s a good time for all the families to come together and kick off the Christmas season,” said Jerry, who always looks forward to seeing the Robeson County Sudan Tomcats Shrine Club drive their miniature go-carts — a crowd favorite.
The Blounts were among more than 100 others who gathered in front of Ron and Colleen Brown and Dan and Mira Kenney’s neighboring homes to watch the parade — a tradition those families have kept up for nearly 25 years.
“It’s really just about the parade and the community and friendship,” said Carol McDonald, explaining why she thinks Lumberton’s parade draws such an enthusiastic audience. “It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you live in.”
Alan Miller said attending the parade is like having Thanksgiving dinner with your family — it’s a chance to catch up with old friends and see how big their kids are getting, he said.
Miller and his family moved to Robeson County from the New York area nearly 25 years ago and he said Lumberton’s parade is “better than Macy’s.” His grandsons Gavin, 6, and Liam, who is about a year old, were particularly excited about the tractors.
Theresa Dickey, a teacher at Magnolia Elementary School, had never attended the parade before. She said she usually sleeps in on Saturdays but when she heard her school’s band was performing, “had no choice but to come cheer for them.” She said she hasn’t attended a Christmas parade in nearly 20 years, and Lumberton’s was “very definitely” worth getting up early for.
Santa Claus, in a sled aboard Southeastern Dermatology’s float, wrapped up the procession, getting at least one pint-sized parade-goer in the Christmas spirit: “Now let’s go to the toy store!” exclaimed a cheery voice as the crowd dispersed.
The following are the dates for the other holiday parades in Robeson County:
— Rowland will hold its Christmas parade on Saturday. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. on Main Street.
— Pembroke will hold its Christmas parade on Dec. 5. The parade will begin at 4 p.m. at Givens Performing Arts Center and will be immediately followed by a tree-lighting ceremony.
— Fairmont will hold its Christmas parade on Dec. 6. The parade will begin at 6 p.m. downtown and will be immediately followed by a tree-lighting ceremony. After the ceremony, choirs from Rosenwald and Long Branch schools will perform at the Heritage Center.
— St.Pauls will hold its Christmas parade on Dec. 7. The parade will begin at 3 p.m. at St. Pauls High School.
— The 27th annual Marietta-Whitehouse Volunteer Fire Department parade will also be on Dec. 7. Lineup at the old Marietta school will between 9 and 10:30 a.m.
— Maxton will hold its Christmas parade on Dec. 14. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. at Townsend Middle School.
— Red Springs will hold its Christmas parade on Dec. 14. The parade will begin at 3 p.m. at Red Springs High School.