There will be no Santa Claus parade in Tillsonburg this year, but the Tillsonburg and Area Optimist Club is planning to keep the spirit of the parade alive with its first ever Optimist Christmas Display.
“We are going to be doing an Optimist Christmas Display this year,” said Mandi Byrne, member of the Tillsonburg and Area Optimist Club, noting the event will take place on Saturday, Nov. 21, from 1-4 p.m. in the parking lot behind Avondale United Church, between Harvey Street and Lisgar Avenue.
“It’s going to be a stationary Christmas display, and you can either drive or walk,” said Byrnes.
“We will also be going live in our Facebook group so that anybody who does not feel safe coming out will be able to see it safely from their home.”
Now that they officially have the green light from public health officials and the Town of Tillsonburg, the Optimist Club is planning the displays.
“Given that we’re not really sure what to expect – how many vehicles we’re going to have – we’re keeping this very, very small scale,” said Byrnes.
The guest of honour will be Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, who will greet guests from their float. There will be floats for Olaf, the snowman character from the movie Frozen, and local firefighters.
“We are working on having more. We’ll have more details in a week or so.
“It’s not going to be like a typical parade that we’ve had in the past where there’s a lot of business floats – we’re not going that route, just because of the space that we have available to us. It’s just not going to be enough to invite as many as we would like.”
Banners for the Christmas display will be created by local student volunteers.
“Last year we had some superheroes that were a big hit, so we’re looking at bringing them back.”
Other than that, they aren’t sure yet, but they know the amount of displays will be dictated by a limited parking lot space, which extends to the lot across from the post office on Lisgar Avenue, and north to the area across from Upper Deck Youth Centre – which was the staging area for the Santa Claus parade.
“It just kind of made sense, put it right there and see how we do with it.”
Two paths will wind their way through the parking lots – one for vehicles, one for foot traffic.
“To keep the two paths separate – walking traffic and vehicle traffic – and make sure that everybody, whether they will be walking or driving, will see everything, there will not be enough room to have everybody (that would typically be in a Santa parade).
“We’re going to keep the walkers and vehicles totally separate, so there’s no confusion and nobody walking through where the vehicles go. We just want to make sure everybody’s safe.”
Southwestern Public Health has advised there must be 10 feet between each display. And people on the displays must also maintain their social distancing (for those not in the same family bubble).
“There’s a few challenges that we haven’t had to deal with in the past,” said Byrnes. “We have to make sure everybody is safe, that is our No. 1 concern.”
They also wanted to make sure the floats were accessible to the central area of Tillsonburg for anyone walking or driving.
Planning has been ongoing for more than a month, involving discussions with the Town of Tillsonburg and Southwestern Public Health.
“The Town really wanted to make sure that we were being safe.
“One thing that Southwestern Public Health stressed, we’re not allowed to hand out anything,” said Byrnes, noting they will not be giving out candy.
There will be a food bank element, however. Firefighters, who have traditionally collected for the Helping Hand Food Bank during the parade, will be able to accept grocery store gift cards donations in their buckets or firefighter boots.
“I would just like thank the Optimist for going ahead with this and trying to make something happen,” said Byrnes. “I would also like to thank the Town for helping us try to make this happen.
“We are actively looking for some responsible adult volunteers, if anybody would like to help us with this,” Byrnes summed up, noting the club can be contacted through its Facebook page.