GIBSON CITY – Early last week, organizers of the Gibson Area Chamber of Commerce Lighted Christmas Parade were excited about the weather forecast—a chance of “light snow” a few hours before the parade. However, by Saturday afternoon, it was clear that snow wasn’t going to create the festive atmosphere they hoped for.
“The snow started out pretty, and we thought it was going to set the holiday mood,” said Gibson Area Chamber of Commerce President Susie Tongate on Monday. “However, Mother Nature had a whole different idea.”
The heated tent was up, and with the snow gently falling and predicted to end by noon, the parade committee set up Santa’s Village, complete with children’s activities. Then the wind speeds began gusting up to 40 mph, and the area's winter weather advisory was extended.
“By the time the wind really kicked in, we were past the point of no return," Tongate said of the decision to hold the event despite the weather.
SugarTree Band made it in from out of town in time to perform, and volunteers worked together to make sure the children and adults who came out before the parade had an enjoyable experience. Children visited with Santa, frosted cookies to eat and made Christmas crafts.
"The kids who did make it out made it so much fun for us," said volunteer Nicole McNary, who along with fellow teacher, Caitlin Heap, dressed as a reindeer.
Between two and five inches of snow fell in Ford County by the time the snow ended late Saturday. Travel became hazardous, and Route 47 in Champaign County was closed because of an accident.
“With the investment in the tent, band and the floats, we felt it was important to have the parade if at all possible,” said Tongate.
Parade entries began lining up, as the wind whipped a few of the tent poles down during the band’s performance. The tent was secured with bungee cords.
WGCY, which normally does a live broadcast from the sidewalk, was moved to the front window of the Fashion Shop. Many vendors were also moved inside.
“Mayor Dickey and his wife helped out by spreading salt in the high-traffic areas,” Tongate said.
Santa's horse-drawn carriage couldn't make it to the parade because of the weather, so Santa was offered a ride by the Gibson City Fire Department.
Committee member Janna Friday said there were only about five other entries that preregistered but couldn’t make it to the parade.
“Overall that’s not too bad considering the weather,” Friday said.
Parade winners included Allison's ABC Daycare, individual/family; Gibson City Pentecostal Church, religious; Villas of Holly Brook, commercial float; One Earth Energy, commercial vehicle; and Ponderosa 4-H, organization float. The Gibson City Rotary Club was the overall winner.
Tongate said despite the weather, the downtown Christmas tree miraculously withstood the high winds, and the parade ended up with 35 entries. Many families watched the parade from the warmth of their cars.
“I call that a snowy success!” she said.