The Sweetness of Small Town TraditionsThe Oxford Christmas Parade brings the community together, year after year.
BY JULIE CANTRELL
PHOTOS BY BRUCE NEWMAN
A community is only as good as its people. That’s what my grandfather used to say when he would serve on his local school board or volunteer to help those in need. My family stressed the “unity” of “community” and taught me not only to play my part, but to value the contributions of every member of our society.
Through the ages people have celebrated that “unity” by honoring certain traditions. From pow-wows to baptisms, weddings to funerals, some practices serve as observations of faith while others express gratitude for something as simple as a change in season.
As I age, I have developed a greater appreciation for these ceremonies. In fact, I now consider such traditions a barometer of sorts, a tool that can gauge the health of a community.
I grew up in Louisiana, a place where entire towns would gather for a cochon-de-lait or a fais-dodo. But there was another tradition that thrilled me most as a child – parades! In the bayou state, we could always look forward to a parade – not only during Mardi Gras, when revelry lasted for weeks with back-to-back floats rolling in full regale, but also during Christmas, Fourth of July, and St. Patrick’s Day.
Our high school homecoming was equally exciting, with each class working for months to stuff colored tissue paper into chicken wire, crafting floats that showcased the spirit of creativity and cooperation. The only thing more thrilling than the chance to catch free candy, beads, and trinkets was to be the person throwing the goods to eager spectators.
Parades taught me to find beauty in both the giving and the receiving. They also taught me that it’s good to hit pause every now and then, to stop the day-to-day hurry and yield to the sweetness of small-town traditions.
When our family moved to Oxford fifteen years ago, I was thrilled to discover a diverse community of people who are civic minded. I was impressed by the fact that this town is centered around three independent bookstores and a string of locally-owned businesses.
I knew immediately that I had found my tribe. Readers, writers, musicians, artists, scholars, farmers, teachers, thinkers, AND (perhaps most importantly) paraders! People who love to “pass a good time” and who aren’t too vain to don a silly costume and dance in the streets just to make a child’s eyes light up with hope and holiday cheer.
Most Decembers thereafter my children braved the cold temperatures, whether standing streetside or piling into pick-ups with their church groups, scout troops, and various athletic teams. This year, my son will once again march with the Oxford High School band, a group of young adults who are some of the hardest-working, most brilliantly talented teens I’ve ever met.
These budding musicians have given me a new appreciation for the ceremonial aspect of our traditions. After all, what’s a parade without a marching band? The beat of the drums, the glide of the brass, the twirl of the flags . . . high school marching bands provide the rhythm of rural America. They serve as the pulse that unites us all through the power of song.
This season, I am looking forward to yet another Oxford Christmas parade. A time when neighbor stands beside neighbor, lining the streets with cameras and cheers. We gather not to argue politics or point fingers. Not to label or divide or criticize or condemn. But to celebrate the beautiful blessings of freedom. To pause in gratitude for a moment when we can all come together and say, Yes, this is our home. These are my people. And it is all good.
The 2017 Oxford Christmas Parade will take place Monday, December 4 at 6:30 p.m.