What if they gave a parade and nobody came?
In the case of the annual Dominion Energy Christmas Parade, that would be exactly what organizers are hoping for in 2020.
Not so much as a single jingle-bell-clad child camped out on Broad Street.
For parade director Beth Karrer, the biggest challenge was trying to determine the safest way to bring holiday entertainment to the community.
“Canceling completely was never in the cards for us,” she says. “We know that the community looks to the Christmas parade to kick off the holiday season year after year, and we wanted to find a safe way to make that happen this year.”
After months following the news and tracking guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, talking with the city, and brainstorming ideas with CBS, the committee decided the parade needed to be a virtual experience and it was their job to find new and creative ways to make a television-only Christmas special.
The parade will be prerecorded in an undisclosed location for the safety of the participants. About 80% of the broadcast will be never-before-seen entertainment, stories and musical performances. The remaining percentage will be best-of clips from the past decade of parades, featuring floats, giant helium balloons and memorable moments.
Given that participants won’t have the usual street buzz surrounding them on either side, it was up to the organizers to create an engaging TV experience.
“We knew from the get-go that Legendary Santa needed to make an appearance, especially after all that 2020 entailed,” explains Tera Barry, who for nine years has been the corporate sponsor and communications vice-chair of the parade. “Our hope is that people can still celebrate the holiday season with the Dominion Energy Christmas Parade and create new holiday traditions with their families, even if they’re not physically cheering for their favorite units on Broad Street this year.”
Residents will be featured in sponsored segments about how companies or people are giving back to the community. This includes a feature on the nonprofit Celebrate RVA, long known for celebrating children on their birthdays, which has pivoted its business model to help children in the community during the pandemic by serving as a virtual learning environment for school-age kids in the Church Hill area.
April O’Quinn, a Richmond native and Richmond Ambulance Authority EMT, will serve as the official grand marshal for the parade. O’Quinn, who contracted COVID-19 in March and had to take more than a month off from work, was one of five national winners of the American Girl Heroes With Heart contest earlier this year to honor front-line workers during the pandemic.
The parade has always been known for the energetic performances of marching bands, but because of CDC guidelines, many school units aren’t meeting or, if they are, they’re unable to travel by bus. Instead, Karrer says, the TV parade will feature all-new, prerecorded footage of local and regional entertainment groups. To film the groups without an audience, the filming dates and locations weren’t published for the public.
Although young parade fans won’t be able to sip hot chocolate on the curbs along Broad Street this year, they can participate thanks to the first-ever Chick-fil-A family float-building contest. Children of all ages are encouraged to create their own Christmas floats, some of which will be featured in the broadcast. And while the homemade, holiday-themed floats need to be at least 12 inches long and 12 inches tall, they can also be as big as the creator would like.
In all likelihood, one of the most popular parts of this year’s broadcast will be the best-of clips that CBS will pull from its archives, providing a stroll down memory lane. Of course, we all want to know: Will viewers get to see the clip from 2010 when the giant balloon of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer took an unfortunate spill in front of crowds of unsuspecting children and their parents? That was the year Rudolph couldn’t quite clear a traffic light and it poked him in the head. Santa’s lead reindeer sprung a leak and slowly went down, leaving spectators to witness a defeated and deflated, red-nosed reindeer. Happily for children, Rudolph was back the next year with a Band-Aid on his head.
“I’m pretty sure CBS will try to find footage of the infamous fate of Rudolph,” Berry says with a laugh. “Can we ever live that down?”
Dominion Energy’s Christmas Parade will air on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 10 a.m. on WTVR-CBS 6.Back to The Holiday Almanac