14: The Farmers’ Parade of Lights

14: The Farmers’ Parade of Lights

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

The Farmers’ Parade of Lights

They called me and the Mrs. at the North Pole, to see if we’d join them on their tour. It’s a highlight of our season, and we wouldn’t want to miss it!

~Mr. Santa Claus at Farmers’ Parade of Lights

In big red letters the headlines of a local newspaper boldly announced: Farmers’ Parade of Lights. Overwhelmed by curiosity I hurried back to the house from the mailbox. A parade that involved farmers was something I needed to know more about.

The article said the Farmers’ Parade of Lights began as a spontaneous, informal event on the 2nd Thursday of December, by “The 3rd and 4th Line March Blahs Committee” and friends of Rockwood, Ontario. Local farmers dressed up their farm equipment for the Christmas season and rode through the village of Rockwood. A holiday gesture of goodwill from the farmers to their non-farming neighbours.

Over the years, the tradition continued. Twenty area farms joined in the celebration, and two hundred farmers, their families, employees and friends rode on floats. This was an “invitation only” local event that involved no advertisements, no fundraisers and no fees. The parade route began on the 5th Line and travelled along Highway 7 to the 4th Line, with The North Pole as the final destination. The article suggested an early arrival for spectators, as visitors had been known to attend from various locations in Ontario, all across Canada and numerous countries around the globe! Everyone from babies to seniors filled the streets of Rockwood to enjoy the decorated farm equipment.

When the school bus dropped my children off late that afternoon, I excitedly told them about the parade. A unanimous vote confirmed we were going!

On the afternoon of the parade, we sat around the kitchen table and enjoyed a simple meal. Grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, celery and carrot sticks disappeared within minutes. At five o’clock, we began to prepare for the journey to Rockwood.

“Put on your snowsuits, warmest boots, toques, scarves and snowmobile mitts. It’s going to be cold tonight, and the parade is supposed to be long,” I told my children.

Bundled up and ready, we left our home in Pilkington Township for the forty-five minute drive to Rockwood. A slight breeze blew, snow was in the air, and temperatures hovered around -10 degree C.

Excited about our adventure, my children tried to imagine what the parade would be like.

“How do they put the lights on the tractors and light them up?” they wanted to know.

“How big will the tractors and equipment be?”

“Will Santa and Mrs. Claus be in the parade?”

The newspaper article offered answers to some of their questions, but the remainder would have to be a surprise!

Five miles outside of Rockwood we joined a long line of cars that were headed to the parade. The number of cars parked along the side of the road caused concern about parking, but closer to the village a few spots opened up. With the car parked, we walked a mile into the village.

After a short search for the perfect spot to stand and watch the parade, we settled in front of one of the local parks. The newspaper article had warned that a large number of spectators attended, but I was astonished by the crowds. Literally thousands of people filled the streets of Rockwood that night.

Leading the parade was a police cruiser with flashing lights. Sirens wailing, a policeman waved to the crowd. We stood in awe as the first float passed in front of us. A John Deere tractor pulled a hay wagon with a nativity scene perched on top. The size of the float and the number of Christmas lights that decorated it overwhelmed us. Garland, tinsel, ribbons, wreaths, bows and banners added to the collection of lights.

The second float, a well-decorated Massey Ferguson tractor, towed a manure spreader covered in thousands of lights. Gold coloured tinsel hung from the spreader’s beater bars. A generator-powered fan blew the tinsel into the air to resemble manure as it was tossed from the spreader. A group of local “cloggers” clogged to Christmas music on the bed of a hay wagon pulled by an antique Ford tractor. Clowns and firefighters waved to the spectators, shook children’s hands and passed out candy canes as they walked the parade route. Christmas music provided by each float filled the air. The spirit of Christmas took over the crowd as parade goers joined in and sang Christmas songs.

The chute and auger on a snow blower mounted on a dual-wheeled Case tractor was decorated with white lights. Two short horizontal rows of icicle lights protruded from the chute. Creative minds had designed the lights to look like snow as it blew out of the snow blower.

Cheers erupted from the crowd as a skid steer named The Dancing Christmas Tree performed its version of a square dance down the main street. Covered in multi-coloured balloons with a flashing red light on its roof, the skid steer spun around, dipped and dived and doe-see-doed to the delight of the crowds on the street. Other floats contained stars mounted inside tractor tires, sprayer arms lit with red and green coloured lights, and hay elevators that displayed green and red candy canes.

Christmas trees of all shapes, sizes and colours were mounted on tractor fenders, cabs and hoods. Last but not least, as in every parade at Christmastime, Santa and Mrs. Claus rode high in the cab of a John Deere combine. Santa’s shouts of “HO HO HO Merry Christmas” resounded into the night air. Mrs. Claus’s rosy red cheeks and smile delighted young and old alike, while the crowds cheered and shouted “Merry Christmas.”

Tired but excited, my children chatted about their favourite floats on the drive home. The Dancing Christmas Tree was voted number one. Candy cane-filled pockets were emptied as we satisfied our sweet tooth. With tired voices and sleep filled eyes, they asked if we could go to the Farmers’ Parade the next year.

Attendance at the Farmers’ Parade became a Christmas tradition for my family. Each year the floats become more imaginative than the year before. Participants wrap themselves in Christmas lights and wear Christmas tree-shaped hats. Plastic blow-up Frostys, Santas and reindeer have been added to the floats. Elvis made an appearance one year and entertained the crowds. Some floats remain the same, while others make minor changes. The more adventurous, creative farmers display new ideas each year.

Farm machinery has gotten larger over the years, but is restricted to the width of the roads and streets in and around Rockwood. Most years, the weather has cooperated and been ideal. As long as it does, we go. And each time we’ve joined the crowds at this spectacular event we have experienced what the organizers have set out to accomplish: to catch the spirit of Christmas — in a farmer’s way. As long as Santa and Mrs. Claus have their crops harvested they will be back the next year with the combine. That way Rudolph and his reindeer team get well rested before the big night!

~Caroline Sealey

Alma, Ontario

Editor’s note: To see the Rockwood, Ontario Farmers’ Santa Claus Parade of Lights, view this video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yyCPCATpBM

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