COOLIDGE — While the specter of COVID-19 has put a damper on Christmas celebrations this year, the Coolidge Christmas Light Parade was not a casualty.
In maintaining the annual parade, Coolidge became one of the few communities in Pinal County to have a public Christmas showcase this holiday season. A large crowd gathered around San Carlos Park on Friday evening to watch floats go by and offer a rare break from increasingly virtual and sheltered routines, as dictated by the pandemic.
“It’s been limiting,” said local resident Carmen Quintero, who was out at the parade with her family for their first holiday event of the year. “We’re Mexicans, so we like to get together. We’re trying to be as safe as possible and (the virus) is hitting too close to home right now.”
The celebration was not unaffected by pandemic restrictions. According to Brittany Chitwood, the recreation coordinator for the Coolidge Parks and Recreation Department, significant adjustments had to be made, including scrapping the street vendors and Santa’s appearance in the park. The staff struggled to get parade floats to commit, and some pulled out due to safety concerns. Ultimately there were 23 floats in the parade, down from the usual 30 to 40.
“We set rules in place, and we have lots of staff,” Chitwood said before the parade. “We’re all trying our best.”
Many in attendance seemed grateful for the opportunity for some holiday cheer and a brief return to normalcy.
“We are not doing a lot of the festivities that they normally do, which is kind of a bummer,” said Coolidge resident Kendall Osborne, who — along with her husband and family — took her newborn child to see the lights for the first time. “We’re excited that Coolidge is doing something. That’s what makes me happy.”
Osborne said she and her husband loved the homemade, amateur aspect of the floats, which created a more intimate parade than something in a larger city.
“It’s truly important that we still have something community-wise to come together for,” said Jacob Fenn, who deejayed the event. “There were more people than I thought coming out tonight. … It’s been a long time since anybody has done anything.”
Fenn said that the holiday season has been tough for him personally, with his father passing away — not from COVID-19 — and that he had more respect than ever for life and family.
Some in the crowd had traveled from surrounding areas to visit the parade, due to other local towns canceling their own events. Florence canceled its annual parade, while Casa Grande and Eloy switched to electric light tours so participants could view displays in a drive-by format.
The winning floats were announced at the end of the night. The MN Electric Company’s entry came in first, followed by Top CDE and Las Guadalupanas. Team Keiser’s “Reach for the Stars” display was named best family float, while the civic and commercial titles went to the Eloy Fire Department and Hughes Towing, respectively. Winners will receive personalized trophies in the coming weeks.