Liberty County residents, Fort Stewart families and visitors from around the region turned out in droves Friday night for the 18thannual Illuminated Christmas Parade in Hinesville, presented by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Sidewalks along the parade route were jam-packed with spectators who sat on camping chairs, blankets and the curb, waving at the passing floats and waiting to catch a glimpse of Kris Kringle himself.
According to Chamber and CVB CEO Leah Poole, the theme of this year’s event was “a parade of giving.”
“We are excited about this year’s parade theme, as Liberty County non-profits and other philanthropic groups work so hard to help the community,” Poole said. “It is nice to recognize them and their efforts by encouraging local businesses to partner and recognize what is given back in so many ways.”
The recognitions didn’t stop there, though, as parade organizers decided to honor the United Way’s Volunteers of the Year with the titles of Parade Grand Marshals.
Millie Wilson, McKaylin Darsey and Sgt. Robert Saffrit – adult, youth and soldier Volunteers of the Year, respectively – represented the United Way’s spirit of giving, riding near the front of the parade.
This year’s honorary grand marshals were Col. Thomas Gukeisen and Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Hummel, commander and CSM of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, respectively.
According to Chamber of Commerce Administrative Assistant Melissa Bloom, this year’s parade saw 63 total float entries. Several dance teams and cheer squads from area schools were represented, as well as both Liberty County High School and Bradwell Institute’s marching bands.
Jeremy Fermin, BI’s director of bands, said that this year was special because of his band members’ brand-new uniforms.
“It’s also the first year I’ve let them really decorate their instruments and turn on their lights,” he said. “All the instruments have lights … they’re like marching Christmas trees almost.”
Fermin also commented on the significance of marching in the annual Christmas parade.
“Not everyone can make it to a Bradwell football game,” he said. “This is one of those instances when we can showcase ourselves to the community. We have a float that has some of our accomplishments, as well as our trophies from this past marching season … we had a lot of community support to get these new uniforms, and it’s a way to show them off.”
Melanie Hass, aka Brawlroom Bliss, said this is the second year the Fort Stewart Roller Girls have participated in the Illuminated Christmas Parade.
“It’s so much fun to get out there and skate and just … be involved with the city,” she said. “It’s illuminated, so we have to try to come up with creative ways to light ourselves, as skaters, and the float.”
Hass and other members of her roller-derby team skated behind an old British military vehicle, which was decked out with Christmas lights, tinsel and gift-wrapped presents on the hood.
Kathy Ervin of the Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield Post Exchange said that she was hoping to win Best Float for AAFES’ gingerbread-house themed entry.
“This is our second year participating,” she noted. “We are all about giving back to the community and making ourselves known, because we are a part of the covenant for the community, and it’s all about giving back.”
Bringing up the rear of the parade was Santa Claus, played by Bob Clements. Santa hitched a ride with the Hinesville Fire Department, waving at parade-goers from atop the Tower 1 fire engine.
Poole estimated the parade’s attendance at somewhere around 15,000.
“It’s really just a fun time,” she said. “It’s one of the only illuminated parades, one of the only nighttime parades, so we think that makes it pretty special.”