Pender County town attempts socially distanced Christmas parade

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ATKINSON, NC (WWAY) — With COVID restrictions weighing heavily this holiday season, many, like the people of Atkinson, NC, are tailoring old traditions into socially distanced celebrations.

They put on a socially distanced parade this Saturday, complete with tractors, classic cars decorated for Christmas, and according to Shannon Gunter, a float featuring local pageant queens and princesses.

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“Our babies were riding in the back of the truck,” Gunter said, “and some of our older queens were riding on the hay. We went down the main strip and were waving and wishing everybody a merry Christmas, and they were just wonderful.”

The town of 321 people is known for its annual Christmas parades, which usually include several floats and activities. The Pender County town has been in the orange Coronavirus zone since November, so this year, organizers added some new measures designed to keep everyone safe.

Around 75 people lined the parade route. A few wore masks, but most who watched socially distanced from those outside their family.

“We had a fantastic parade,” said Wendell Newkirk, the town mayor. “It came out a whole lot better than I thought it would. You know, dealing with the pandemic and all. And the towns people, they’re so gracious. They kept their distance, and that’s what made it so great.”

The parade was limited to just a few vehicles, and those actually in the parade had to follow special rules.

“Normally we would throw candy,” said Lauren McMillan, a pageant queen. “But since COVID, we can’t really do that, but we just smile and wave.”

A few dozen stayed behind to enjoy the food and car show following the parade. Many removed their masks after the crowd thinned.

Though the parade was smaller than in year’s past, Atkinson residents say they’re thankful for the gift of a new memory as they enter this holiday season.