The Brunswick Christmas Parade: December 5th- 5:30 p.m.
December 2020 Issue
Interview with Mathew Hill, Executive Director, City of Brunswick Downtown Development Authority
By Meredith M. Deal Photos provided by Parade Enthusiasts
The annual Brunswick Christmas Parade is back and ready to warm your heart with its hometown feeling full of community recognition! Generations of holiday parade watchers and participants
consider it the best city experience of the year.
Mathew Hill, Executive Director at City of Brunswick DDA, has quite a tally because he has been to 16 Brunswick Christmas Parades in a row. Mathew says most locals recall that the parade started after WWII in the ‘50s, but no one knows exactly what year. His research led him to learn about other southeast Georgia towns like Nahunta and Waycross, with their post-WWII Christmas parades, too. “Back then, first Saturdays in December often marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season, especially for downtown merchants. So, our annual parades are first Saturdays in December.”
“This year, on December 5, will be a great time to come see the parade since it is all outdoors. The mile-long route itself lends to social distancing, so you don’t have to be right next to someone else,” Mathew said. The lighted two-hour parade begins at 5:30 p.m. from Howard Coffin Park all along Gloucester Street, ending one mile west at Mary Ross Park. But, before the first candy cane gets to the parade starting point, Brunswick’s hard-working city elves are in continuous motion.
Parade Preparations for Tremendous Trophies
By mid-November each year, parade entry forms ($25 covers trophy expenses) are readied for assigned parade line-ups. This is a big deal for the more than 100 parade participants are big competitors, hoping to win coveted First or Second place trophies in four categories: Civic; Marching; Religious and Business.
Each parade day, entries are judged just before taking their place along the parade route. “The judges rush their trophy decisions to me as the parade begins to pass the starting point,” Mathew explained. “I then hand the winners their trophies, often catching reactions as if I am handing them a million dollars! You have never seen people so excited to win a trophy, it’s one of the most fun things I do in my job.”
“We give the trophy shop leeway to design each year’s set of awards,” he said. “Trophy colors, tops and designs may change a little, but they are always BIG, Mathew said. And they are actually big! Second place trophies are 28-inches tall and all first place winning trophies are a full 3-feet. “We have to do our trophies better than everyone else in those other towns; it sets us apart and makes people want to enter Brunswick’s parade because they might get a trophy!”
100+ Parade Entries
Most every Christmas-themed float is pulled by truck,” Mathew shared. “We also have convertible cars with pageant queens and high school homecoming royalty, pickup trucks with decorated truck beds, unusual cars and more. You’ll always see the Southeast Georgia Health System float, realtor and insurance business floats, many floats by local churches, the YMCA, local merchants, lumber yard and home improvement store floats, karate groups, marching bands, and dance academy entries.”
You’ll also see first responders, military and law enforcement. “We invite representatives from Fort Stewart, color guards and company units. The first parade cars are City of Brunswick Police and Georgia Highway Patrol. EMT’s, the sheriff, fire chiefs and police chiefs are included. Last of all, Santa appears on a hook and ladder fire truck!”
The parade’s true spirit shines brightly when surprised community altruists are honored as Grand Marshals. Last year marked the fortieth anniversary of Keep Golden Isles Beautiful, so Lea King-Badyna and Christie Trowbridge were parade Co-Marshals. This year is…a surprise!
When the parade ends around 7:30 p.m., many spectators remain downtown to enjoy restaurants and retail shopping.
The Best Ever
With a last nod to this extraordinary Christmas event, Mathew shared a shining tourism moment: “A few years back as I walked past a merchant talking with visitors, they turned and said, ‘Here he is; he runs the parade.’ The couple shared how they had not planned to come to the Christmas parade but decided to drop by for a look, admitting it was the most fun they’d ever had. They’ve been back the last seven years, bringing others in from Florida and N.C. to help as judges, because they all think it is the best parade they have ever seen.”
Spread Out and Enjoy
Worth the wait: This is a walking parade, so bring your folding chairs. For a spot near the grandstand, arrive early. Master of Ceremonies, Joe Willie Sousa, provides parade color commentary, music and announcements.
It’s easy: Spread out and relax along the one-mile Gloucester Street route. For safety, candy is not tossed from the floats, but is handed to spectators by walking participants.
Mathew’s favorite parade viewpoints:
The steps in front of the 777 Building and most anywhere east of Union Street towards
Parking: Be sure to arrive early. Spectators can park all along Gloucester with plentiful parking at First Methodist and on Norwich, at St. Mark’s, City Hall, the US Post Office, the library parking lot and Mary Ross Park.