Gov. Bill Haslam led Johnson City’s Christmas Parade Saturday afternoon, cruising through downtown on a bright red tractor, shouting “Merry Christmas” to the thousands of people lining the streets.
He was followed by a line of other politicians on tractors, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, state Sen. Rusty Crowe, Congressman Phil Roe, and Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brockin, who was wearing a Santa Claus outfit, topped with a big cowboy hat.
The floats and displays that followed with the parade were equally impressive. Swag bags were handed out ahead of time in anticipation for the candy and trinkets passed out by paraders.
For many parade veterans and first-timers, there were sights to see. In passing, there were live band performances, radio stations blasting music and marching bands from local schools performing their numbers. There were churches on display, dressing up in Christmas-related costumes, cheerleaders from elementary schools and East Tennessee State University, recent regional beauty pageant winners, fancy modified cars and businesses, all handing out goodies for the eager children with open bags.
The Wellness Center representatives were rocking Duck Dynasty-style beards as they passed through the city streets, as one onlooker jokingly screamed that he wasn’t buying it.
Some on the sides of the streets were getting the most enjoyment out of watching other people enjoy the parade.
Mark and Ruth Boggs, of Johnson City, said they’ve been coming to the event for almost 30 years, and remember bringing their children, who have since grown up, years ago.
Ruth Boggs said it was the most fun for them to watch the nearly one dozen happy children across the street from their position.
“We love seeing the bands, and to see the kids enjoying it all,” Boggs said.
The temperatures were low, but that’s the way the Boggs like it, saying that it reminds them more of Christmas than if it were warmer.
Jennifer Bervin, of Insight Alliance, an anti-drug coalition in Washington County, was using the cool temperatures to bring smiles to faces before the parade. She was handing out free cups of hot coffee and hot chocolate in front of her agency’s storefront, even going as far as to deliver the drinks down the sidewalk.
Each float and group that passed had something different to offer, with the Johnson City Public Library representatives pushing book carts that had been wrapped up like presents, the Science Hill ROTC program performing in military garb and many more.
Local businesses were displaying daily specials in front of their shops, and there were roving vendors, too, selling toys and cotton candy.
Mike and Kim McConnell, two ETSU students, had seen many parades before, but were excited to see Johnson City’s for the first time, saying they expected something new that they’d never seen before.
“Johnson City is not that big, but it’s unique,” Mike McConnell said. “You see a lot of people here, from a lot of different backgrounds.”
The route of the parade brought the activities through the downtown streets and then back to ETSU’s campus, where the completion of the parade kickstarted another event — the Winter Celebration just behind the administrative building.
ETSU’s clocktower set the mood with its bells ringing out Christmas tunes, and the entire height of it was strewn with lights, as were the columns to the administrative building.
Through doors behind the tower, in the administrative building, there was a familiar holiday face, that of Santa Claus. He, with the help of his elves, offered opportunities for children and parents alike to take photos with him.
With his busy season in full swing, he offered a message to Johnson City youth.
“It’s nice to be here, and very nice to see all the nice little boys and girls,” Claus said. “I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas.”
The Maxsons were the first family to snap photos with Santa, and were happy to take part in the Winter Celebration. Brian and Jennifer’s four-year-old daughter, Alex, pronounced to them that she was looking forward to the food.
Just outside was a white top tent where people could get free hot chocolate, coffee and a variety of cookies. After getting a cup of something warm, the popular spot to be was in the tent next to a tower heater, a spot student Kaitlin Hensley called amazing. In typical holiday fashion, carols were sung for those celebrating.
Jeff Cogburn, another student, said he was the man picked to read a Christmas story to the group, and was excited to have such an event on campus.
“I believe doing things like this do well to pull in members of the community, and that’s something that ETSU excels at,” he said.