Fire & Fun: A Bogalusa Christmas tradition

Published 9:34 am Saturday, November 26, 2016

In Bogalusa, Thanksgiving doesn’t end when the turkey and pie give out.

For decades the national holiday has ended with a lazy stroll through a Christmas lighted landscape at Cassidy Park capped off by a huge, roaring Yule fire. More recently, for the last 17 years, area families have added another tradition to the day: A Christmas Parade. Clear blue skies meant that families were lined up along Columbia Street as children—and plenty of adults—vied for candy, beads and other throws before heading down to Cassidy Park for the 23rd annual Christmas in the Park event.

Bogalusa Mayor Wendy Perrette rode in the parade (and threw bags of white cheddar popcorn) and she said she counts this parade as one of her favorites and this year didn’t disappoint.

“The participation and the parade was great,” Perrette. “This is a parade I enjoy riding in. everyone played Christmas music and it’s a good family parade.”

The mayor said the participation is good, although the event does bump up against a national tradition: Black Friday. The shopping frenzy hits Bogalusa the same as anywhere else and Friday evening, as the sun set and as crowds waited for Santa to drive by, across town other crowds had filled Walmart. The parking lot was packed and some shoppers had parked on the dirt embankments adjacent to the parking lot. Perrette said a packed Walmart might lessen parade crowds, but right now the more local shopping the better for Bogalusa.

“The parking lot was packed with people, which is good,” she said. “That means people were out there shopping. This year our sales taxes have been down and this could help our economy.”

Perrette said she didn’t stop inside Walmart, but she said from her perch in the parade, the tradition is still drawing a crowd.

“You know, we noticed the first year they started doing the Black Friday sales that the crowds started getting thinner, but I think the parade’s actually grown. It’s a long parade,” she said.

She said the weather this year was warmer than usual and that may have been a bigger damper on Christmas spirit than the parade.

“This is the first parade I have been to I didn’t have to wear a jacket,” she said. “I think it put a damper on things, but I think the kids looked forward to seeing Santa Claus.”

Col. Bobby Miller, the chairman of the Christmas in the Park Committee, said he believes the crowds were about the same as in years past, or a bit larger.

“It was really good. The lady who was keeping count, she had to help process people coming through the gate, so she lost count,” said Miller. “But I’d say maybe 1,400.”

Although the parade is over, Christmas in the Park will be open each weekend through the middle of December and then every night until Christmas.

Tickets are $4 for adults and $1 for students.

He said people will not be disappointed, based on the reviews he heard from the first night.

“For the first night it was real good. We were very satisfied, the lights were really beautiful and we got a lot of compliments about them,” he said.

The park will be open for vehicle traffic from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and then foot traffic will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The event is open Friday through Sunday each weekend until Dec. 16 and then the event will be open daily through Christmas day.

Miller said in an earlier interview that visitors will note a variety of new Christmas decorations.

“We have a bunch of new stuff; in fact, we ordered $10,000 worth of it,” he said. “Most of them are hanging displays, and we had two displays that cost quit a bit of money. One was a 21-foot tree and a 20-foot tree. It looks real good.”

In addition to the purchases, the Santa in the Park display will also include the lights and the displays from the former Santa in the Country event.

That annual event is now defunct, following the death of Darron Thomas earlier this year.

Joanna Thomas, his widow, said she wanted to donate the lights as a way to pay tribute to her husband who offered a free elaborate Christmas display for years.

“He started Santa in the Country just for his love of kids,” Thomas said. “And it was free, but if anyone wanted to donate, he (would use the money) to send Bibles to other countries in their language so other people could read about our Lord.”

Thomas said she couldn’t physically set up the display without her husband so she was happy to donate them to the Christmas in the Park project.

Thomas said she’s looking forward to seeing them in Cassidy Park. “I am looking forward to it,” she said.

“It’s going to mean a lot to me and my two boys to see their daddy’s passion for Christmas and the Lord, and giving everyone else a chance to see them. I’m really looking forward to seeing them.”