December 2008

The Bluffton Christmas Parade

Author: ann demart

It may not have the reputation of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the frenetic fans of Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, but the Old Town Bluffton Christmas Parade has its own history. And it’s certainly grown from its beginnings 30-some years ago, when half the town’s 400 residents watched the other half stroll down the street. On Saturday, December 6, a much larger crowd will celebrate at this year’s four themed venues: Christmas on Calhoun Street, Party in the Promenade, May River Stroll and Victorian Christmas at the Heyward House. “Viewers can enjoy food and beverages during the parade and then stay for the parties. We’ll have kid’s activities and photos with Santa,” said Mary O’Neill, co-owner of The Complete Store.

Jacob Preston, Bluffton potter and storyteller extraordinaire, gave a brief history of the parade’s artistic beginnings and growing pains as the town became an incorporated area with a population of more than 15,000. Sounding like a cello with a southern accent, Preston said, “The primary economic drivers in Old Town Bluffton are art, oysters and the speed trap.” In the mid-to-late 1970s, Preston and other artists were drawn to the historic area by its natural beauty, quirky charm and its garbage pickup. In fact, the town’s garbage truck was such a source of pride that the mayor had an artist paint a mural on its side.

As the town grew, not everyone embraced its eccentricities. One resident, known as Bluffton’s Meanest Person, initiated frivolous lawsuits, including one over the buzzards that frequented the Bluffton Oyster Factory. In response, the mayor designated “The Buzzard” the official bird of Bluffton. The Meanest Person also sued over using city funds to paint the garbage truck. In an attempt to end the turmoil, the mayor dressed as The Buzzard and rode the garbage truck in the Christmas parade. The next year, The Buzzard was more dignified and rode in a convertible. Even so, less amused residents voted to ban the buzzard. “That was the beginning of the buzzard insurgency,” said Preston. Allusions to the bird appeared in subsequent parades; once a buzzard wing was sighted behind a beauty queen as she waved from atop a convertible.

Today, many Bluffton residents remain loyal to its buzzards. Recently the wife of the current mayor was overheard exclaiming, “They are so beautiful in flight.” Also in the air is the rumor that the bird of contention will make an appearance in this year’s parade—just one more reason to put the Bluffton Christmas Parade Day on your calendar.

Another popular Bluffton tradition will return when favorite local artist, Amos Hummell, revives his Living Colors performance art show after the parade. “It’s an interactive show, just like the best ones during our previous season,” he said. “Bluffton is a true arts community, and everyone can be involved. We want our friends, fans, kids and actor wannabes to join us for the fun.” Hummell intends to hand out free tickets to Living Colors from a “float” (a trailer or my wife’s car) in the parade. The show will take place around 3 p.m. at his new studio in the original Carson Cottage at 38 Calhoun Street.

Speaking of vehicles in the parade, Hummel’s wife, Lynne, reminisced about a favorite parade moment when a car of New Jersey tourists accidentally followed the fire truck with Santa, and was cheered by the enthusiastic crowd.

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