A parade by any other name

Published 8:42 pm Monday, December 6, 2010

I’m not sure exactly how many parades I’ve attended during my life, but I’d be willing to compare records with just about anybody in the city, with the possible exception of the faculty leaders of Suffolk’s high school marching bands.

Founders Day parades and Independence Day parades, Memorial Day parades and St. Patrick’s Day parades — the cities I’ve lived and worked in all over Virginia have any number of events for which a parade is considered the perfect kickoff.

Suffolk is no different. In fact, if Suffolk had a Wall Street, there’s a good chance that Lakeland High School’s women’s field hockey team and King’s Fork High’s boys’ basketball teams would have been given ticker-tape parades in honor of their state championships during the past few years.

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One thing the city does not have, however, is a Christmas Parade. Instead, starting in 2003, Suffolk began holding a Holiday Parade that somewhat coincidentally falls during the Christmas season.

But just what is this “Holiday” we are supposed to be celebrating if it’s not Christmas? Boxing Day? National Roof Over Your Head Day? National Whiners Day?

Whatever the holiday is that they want to celebrate, Suffolk officials are so intent to defend their decision to not celebrate Christmas that Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts recently sent a two-page letter to a resident who had complained about the parade’s name. In his reply, Roberts used the word, “holiday” 13 times. He referred to “Christmas” by name only twice, and one of those times was as a part of the name of a poem.

Suffolk officials claim a desire to make the parade and other “holiday” events as inclusive as possible. Yet none of the floats or signs in Saturday’s event wished anyone a Happy Hanukkah or a Happy Kwanzaa or even a Joyous Universal Human Rights Month.

There were, however, plenty of Christmas wishes to go around. And this, despite the humbug of a City Hall too caught up in political correctness to see the obvious contradiction in avoiding references to Christmas while encouraging downtown merchants to allow public school students to paint Christmas symbols on their windows, while holding a ceremony to light a large Christmas tree in a public space near the old railroad station and while delivering Santa Claus — Father Christmas, himself — to town in a police boat. Not to mention the fact that city employees have Christmas Day off as a “holiday.”

I’m not the first to suggest it, but if city officials are so worried about offending someone by calling the holiday by its real name, maybe they shouldn’t take Christmas Day off. Personally, I’m offended by the hypocrisy of them enjoying a holiday they’re not prepared to protect. And I suspect there are thousands of folks around Suffolk who feel the same way.