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Parade of (Head)lights? How the Stillwater Parade of Lights was saved

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Family and friends of the Stillwater community join together in downtown Stillwater in order to watch the Stillwater's Parade of lights on December, 6 2018.

Collett Campbell could not bring herself to do it.

In a year where her two sons had their high-school baseball seasons cancelled and the entire world lived through a shallow, virus-ravaged year, the Stillwater Parade of Lights organizer remembered what she said when determining to make the 2020 parade happen.

“We are not cancelling,” Campbell said. “I am so tired of cancelling everything.”

Instead of cutting the parade, she developed a plan. Campbell knew that the Stillwater Christmas staple would have to undergo serious alterations to take place in a safe, socially distanced fashion. 

She came up with a “backwards parade”—a fitting capstone for a topsy-turvy year. 

This year’s Stillwater Parade of Lights will have participants trading in their floats for their front doors. Instead of decorating a vehicle in accordance with a theme like in years past, parade participants will now decorate their business or home.

“Given the circumstances, I think this idea is a phenomenal idea,” Stillwater FFA teacher and parade participant Robby Branscum said. “It lets you have a parade without having to worry about any safety issues.”

Instead of packing the parade route to watch what businesses and individual households assembled, spectators can now see the dazzling light displays from their own vehicles. 

“You can get in a car with four of your buddies and your Starbucks and take off,” Campbell said. “We’ll have a printed map in the (Stillwater) News Press and an online map where people can find all of the locations.”

The parade will be held earlier in the year than normal. Instead of holding it on the first Thursday of December, it will take place on Nov. 14. 

Part of the impetus for moving the parade date was to get it in before winter break in order to include the students of Oklahoma State University. 

Aside from students, the modified format allows for even broader participation across Stillwater. 

Businesses that would not normally be interested in assembling a float to enter in the parade have a much lower bar to join. By decorating their building, or even submitting Christmas lights that are already in place, businesses can secure a spot in the parade.

“I’ve always said the parade is the biggest bang for your buck because you’ve got 20,000 people looking at you,” Campbell said. “Well in this form and fashion, people are going to have that map…so we are hoping it is going to get people out.”

Chad Duncan has participated in the Stillwater Parade of Lights with the Stillwater Elks Lodge. He enjoyed working on his groups award-winning float from last year which netted the Stillwater Elks Lodge a monetary prize and trophy.

“Last year (for a theme) we did ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’,” Duncan said.

Encircling a Christmas tree that they had placed on their float was a singing guitarist and a soda fountain. That combined with a speaker blaring the classic Christmas song was enough to warrant an award from the parade judges.

“It’s a philanthropy project for us,” Duncan said. “We like to do stuff for our community.”

The parade is for all organizations – profit and non-profit. The Stillwater Future Farmers of America has been a participant in the holiday event for decades.

“Our students absolutely love it,” Branscum said. “It is a lot of fun to interact with the community and show off their design and hard work.” 

And the residents love it too.

“(The COVID-19 accommodations) are a good way to keep the Christmas spirit going,” said Stillwater resident Samantha Kerns.

While Campbell is hopeful that the parade can revert back to its regular format next year, the drive-by parade format presents an opportunity to go bigger than ever.

“I think that it gives you an opportunity to make a bigger and grander design,” Branscum said. “When you have to put things on trailers you have to get down the road safely, you’ve got to be able to haul it. If you’ve got the front of your business or home, there is no limit to the things you can do.”