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Citizens plan alternative event for canceled parade

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WAKE FOREST — The Christmas parade may be canceled, but Christmas spirit is not.

Citizens say they still will come together in downtown Wake Forest on Saturday at the time the parade had been scheduled in order to sing carols, visit businesses and give children a chance to be in a mini parade.

The event started when a group of friends announced plans to gather outside town hall. Now organizers say as many as 1,000 people could show up.

“This is how the parade started,” said resident Wesley Spottiswood, one of the organizers. “It was a bunch of people wanting to come together.”

The 72nd annual Wake Forest Christmas Parade, which was expected to draw a crowd of thousands, was scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday. But Wake Forest Downtown Inc. voted last week to cancel the parade, saying it feared for public safety because outside groups were expected to protest the inclusion of a Confederate group in the parade.

The public’s reaction was loud, and many families were disappointed. Mayor Vivian Jones recorded a video where she said supported the decision, although her voice struggled through obvious emotion.

Spottiswood said after he saw these reactions, he wanted to come up with an alternative. He made a public Facebook post saying that he would still head downtown and support local businesses, even if the parade was canceled.

He first thought maybe a handful of families would show up. But now, the post has been shared more than 50 times and hundreds of people voiced their support. He ended up seeking a permit from the town of Wake Forest — and the town waived the normal fee, he said.

“I definitely did not expect this reaction but the reaction from the community definitely shows what Wake Forest is,” Spottiswood said. “We may come from different places, have different backgrounds, we are one.”

Spottiswood was originally planning for people to sing Christmas carols — everything from “Silent Night” to “Frosty the Snowman.” He even wrote an original “Twelve Days of Wake Forest” that includes local references (seven traffic jams, two football champs).

Wake Forest Downtown, the organizers of the parade, are now unofficially supporting the new effort, board member Tiffani Woodlief said. Santa Claus will be at the event thanks to the group’s efforts.

Woodlief said she thinks “it’s super important” to have a community Christmas event because “no one wanted the parade to be canceled.” She said the parade had become a tradition in the community.

“It’s really important that we take the opportunity to come together,” Woodlief said.

Here’s the breakdown of the event:

Families are asked to gather outside the Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce, 350 S. White St., at noon. Free Santa hats will be passed out, and kids are encouraged to dress up for a floatless parade.

The parade will start at 12:30 p.m. with the kids walking down East Owen Avenue — the newly opened “Festival Street” leading to Centennial Plaza and town hall.

There the crowd will gather near the town Christmas Tree and sing carols.

The event is rain or shine.

Attendees are encouraged to visit downtown shops and restaurants afterward.

“I’m hoping this event will just be something where the town can come together,” Spottiswood said. “Where we can celebrate the joy of the holidays.”