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Growing up in the San Antonio metropolis, I always looked forward to the parades that kicked off the spring Fiesta and the Christmas Boat Parades down the iconic San Antonio River canal through downtown. What could be more enchanting to a kid than the lights, colors, music, and hailstorm of Tootsie Rolls and Brach’s Butterscotch Candies?

Later in my adult life, I began to understand parades differently. Parades differentiate local culture from tourism culture, even though visitors are often the majority of the spectators.

<p><p><strong>Wendy Anderson</strong></p></p><p></p>
Dr. Wendy Anderson

DeLand sure loves its parades, too. We do them well and often. What do they say about who we are and what we value? After a glum year-plus of canceled events, the parades this year have said, “We will come together to celebrate our community no matter what.”

The DeLand Christmas Parade saw spectators packed five layers deep the entire length of our sidewalks and on the edges of the Boulevard. Residents greeted each other and shared stories, kids flitted around, and the busy-bee Rotarians doing crowd control and parade management took their jobs very seriously, even as they, too, shook hands and chatted with friends along the way.

But the parade itself … We started by honoring our elected officials: the mayor, city commissioners, and our district’s (awesome!) County Council member. These are the people we have chosen to represent our collective interests and to make decisions for the good of the community.

We celebrated our local heroes: those who serve in our public-safety agencies, our health care workers, and our “Teachers of the Year.” (This has been a rough couple of years for all of them.)

We cheered our children from different public and private schools, from dance and music groups, Scout groups, and athletic groups. (How ’bout that Starke Elementary drum corps?! Wow! Best of show!) They are our future.

We recognized the various participating local businesses who are the economic lifeblood of our community. Thank you to all of the local entrepreneurs who make DeLand distinctive from just Anywhere, USA. And we celebrated several of our local not-for-profit organizations who serve our community in so many important ways. All of this defines our community and what we value about it.

And then there was a 20-minute stream of ATV side-by-sides rumbling in formation. What organization was that? What do they do for our community? I missed their sign indicating who they were.

When we imagine DeLand Christmas Parades in 2030, 2040, 2050, what will they look like? What will we celebrate? What will the future Ray Johnsons or Ted Beilers record, with the latest version of cameras and drones? If parades are a glimpse into who we are as a community, what stories will get told in them?

It doesn’t matter if we are a metropolis of 1 million people, a village of 2,500, or a small city of 40,000. The most important thing is that people find ways to be a part of their larger community and contribute threads to the robust social fabric that gets us through the tough times and gives us a reason to celebrate during the good times.

— Anderson is a professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, and chair of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. She has been promoting sustainable community development for 20 years.

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