Christmas Tradition Continues: Driving Club Gets Ready for Parade
In the good ole days of yore, holiday parades of horses and carriages drew people down the streets, spreading good cheer and the Christmas spirit. Nowadays, motorcades of floats, balloons and public officials do the pulling with marching bands and dancers in tow; however, there is a place in the United States where one of the nation's longest running carriage parades still draws crowds rivaling any "modern" procession.
The Moore County Driving Club will celebrate its 23rd year of trotting decorated horses and carriages around downtown Southern Pines Saturday, Dec. 12, at 1 p.m. for its annual Christmas Parade.
Tom Gallagher is one of this year's parade organizers. He sees the annual parade as an opportunity to share the traditions of horse country with the rest of Southern Pines.
"It's just a wonderful celebration of the Christmas season for the whole town and area," Gallagher says. "It's a wonderful reminder that our community is a part of Southern Pines."
Gallagher loves seeing the excitement in children's faces as the carriages pass by them.
"The kids get a big kick out of it," he says.
Gallagher's fellow organizer, Linda Long, who is also the driving club's president, sees the parade as a chance to celebrate the tradition of equestrian living in Southern Pines.
"Driving is, and has been, a very active, integral part of Southern Pines," Long says.
Last year's parade was the largest ever, featuring 26 carriages. There were also more spectators.
Gallagher and Long hope this year's parade will be just as big, if not bigger.
Every year, carriages assemble at Stoneybrook Farm and proceed down Youngs Road, veering right on Shelton Road, down Manley Avenue and North Ridge Street on to Vermont Avenue before making a round up and down Broad Street in downtown. The route carries the procession up North West Broad Street until Massachusetts Avenue, where the parade will go over the railroad tracks and go down South East Broad Street.
"[The route] gives everyone an opportunity to come downtown," Long says.
Local auctioneer Larry Martin will announce the parade at Hawkins and Harkness Fine Jewelry on North West Broad Street.
Every year, Johnny Smith and his two draft horses pull a large wagon of club members singing Christmas carols and shouting holiday greetings.
Santa and Mrs. Claus are always last in the line, making sure to greet all spectators.
Before concluding the procession, the parade always makes a round at Penick Village on Rhode Island Avenue. This tradition began when one of the club's members moved there and was no longer able to go downtown to watch.
"You would not believe how much they look forward to it," Long says. "They absolutely love it, and we enjoy doing it."
A big component for the parade's participants is the carriage decorating contest -- an underlying competition that garners fiercely kept secrets for elaborate costumes.
In years past, the costumes and decorations have exhibited a variety of holiday features, such as Santa hats, elf attire, red glitter, penguin get-ups, sleigh bells, ribbons, garlands and poinsettias.
"Everyone has always made a huge effort to decorate beautifully for the parade," Long says.
As the participants ride along, a "Secret Santa" judge will observe the decorations and select the participant with the best theme.
Gallagher says his wife, who has won the contest several times in the past, has been very secretive about this year's plans for her carriage and four-in-hand team of Welsh ponies.
Bob Cook and his family anticipate their 13th year of participation in the parade.
In previous years, the Cooks have always enjoyed the creativity of decorating. One year, his wife, Susie, dressed her horse as a unicorn.
Cook has a lot of memories from the celebrations, but one of his most cherished from parades past comes from the 2001, months after the 9/11 attacks.
Cook and his family decorated their carriage with American flags and played John Philip Sousa marches as they paraded through town.
"We didn't win [the decorating contest], but we certainly enjoyed doing it," Cook says.
Cook's daughter, Debbie Zimmerman, hopes to decorate her quarter horse, Webster -- Webby, for short -- as a "painted pony" for this year's parade.
Webby has worn all kinds of decorations over the years, but he has always taken everything in stride.
"He's a good guy," Zimmerman says.
Zimmerman says decorating for the carriage parade is one of her favorite holiday traditions.
"I love it more than doing a tree," she says.
The Moore County Driving Club came together in 1980 with only a few drivers, but the club's membership has since grown into well over 180 members.
The parade's tradition in Southern Pines has grown with the club over the years.
"The crowd gets bigger and bigger every year," Cook says. "It's a great community effort."
For more information about the parade, contact Tom Gallagher at (910) 693-3493 or Linda Long at (910) 692-0943.
Hannah Sharpe can be reached at (910) 693-2485.
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