As my internship here at Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance comes to a close, I can’t help but reminisce about the experiences I’ve had here in the past four months. From volunteering at our many events to doing interviews with business owners for blog posts, I have really gotten to know the community of Harrisonburg and seen what a vibrant and tight-knit community it is. And I’ve come to fully realize how much I love being a part of this town. So that is why on Friday, I was so happy to spend one of my last days as an HDR intern fully immersed in community spirit at the Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting Ceremony.
By 2:00 pm, there were already lawn chairs lining the sidewalks of Main Street, as people staked out the best parade-viewing locations. The window displays of our downtown merchants added exuberant festivity to the downtown scene and, decked out with snowmen galore, twinkling lights, ornaments, and Christmas trees, bows, and wreaths, the view was picture perfect. As the sun went down, community members by the thousands came out, crowding the streets of downtown with anticipation and excitement.
HDR Special Events Manager Kim Kirk and I could not pass up the opportunity to partake in pre-parade fun. Bundled up, we took a stroll through downtown and made a quick stop at The Coffee Truck, operated by Evan Butterfield, for something warm to drink. Equipped with a ginger caramel steamer, a frothy milk and espresso drink flavored with pieces of real, freshly-grated ginger, we were ready for a carriage ride offered by Classic Carriage. With prime seating on the carriage next to the driver, Terry Burkhalter, I was able to get the full view of downtown. And with the cool wind on my face and the glow of holiday lights flashing before my eyes, I felt an immediate sense of spiritedness and town pride. When the carriage ride sadly came to a close, we were off to decorate HDR’s downtown float and begin the parade.
The parade was far more of a spectacle than I had imagined, an event to capture the imaginations of children and bring out the child-like spirit in the adults watching, as well. I saw people of all ages, people who had come from all over Virginia, and many of my college professors and classmates, all of whom had come out to celebrate this annual event. The parade with filled with music from the JMU Marching Royal Dukes and the high school marching bands of the area. I saw the talents of many local groups: unicyclists, jump-ropers, tap dancers, fire twirlers, and roller-derby team members. I saw a flurry of creative snowmen costumes and statues made from every material possible (even one made from concrete blocks), and most importantly, I saw the thousands of faces of parade watchers glowing with fascination.
Following the appearance by the big man in red at the parade’s finale, the town gathered for the Tree Lighting Ceremony, conducted by Mayor Baugh. After the ceremony was an absolutely amazing presentation by the talented JMU Marching Royal Dukes and color guard in front of the beautifully lit courthouse. It was a concert I am glad I did not miss.
Thinking over the evening’s festivities, I was so glad to have experienced this event with the community and the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance staff I have come to know so well this semester. I could not have imagined a better way to spend my last Friday as an HDR intern and also my last Christmas as a JMU student.
I want to say thank you to the business owners who have allowed me to interview them and feature them on this blog, to those who have read my posts these last few months, and, of course, to HDR for giving me this opportunity.
Happy Holidays everyone and don’t forget to celebrate the New Year in downtown at First Night!
Katie George is the Promotions Intern for fall of 2011. She is a senior Media Arts & Design major at James Madison University.
All photographs © 2011 Katie George