The sun was out and the temperatures were comfortable for a day of fun in downtown Riverbank. After a two year hiatus with stormy weather in 2019 and COVID in 2020 the 52nd Annual Christmas Parade and Craft Fair made a return this past Saturday.
“The parade was a much-needed lift for our community,” remarked Mayor Richard O’Brien. “Our 2019 parade was canceled at the last minute due to storms and heavy winds. Last year COVID made our parade a casualty. So the parade was a first-time out event for many. Our entries to this year’s parade were low but our attendance by our residents was very large. The children were all excited about lighting the tree and meeting Santa.”
The craft fair kicked off the Nov. 27 festivities with 21 vendors lining Third Street that offered a variety of crafts from signs, bird houses, home décor, to tumblers, succulents, jewelry, hats and scarves just in time for Christmas. Vintage Trailer Trash and Treasures had a photo booth set up for guests to capture the moment.
Central Valley Community Resources had a booth where they served up some chili, chicken soup, hot chocolate, and apple cider.
“It went very well for us,” said Riverbank City Councilmember and CVCR CEO Darlene Barber Martinez. “People came in spurts. The busiest time was when it got dark and people were waiting for the parade to start.”
Sips and Sleeves also had coffee and hot chocolate. Taco Fiesta was on hand serving up tacos.
“I thought the vendor faire is always a good idea for both the vendors and businesses downtown to introduce themselves and what they have to offer the public,” added Councilmember Luis Uribe. “I like how we had the Christmas parade coincide with Small Business Saturday in the hopes of encouraging more support for local businesses.”
Throughout the day the people would trickle in and the vendors stayed open well into the evening where they saw a steadier stream of patrons as they gathered for the parade.
“I think the weather was my favorite part,” said Parks and Recreation Director Sue Fitzpatrick. “It was perfect for the craft faire and parade. I think the mix of vendors was very good and the ones I talked to were happy and did well. The coffee truck sold out and the other food vendors did well too. That is always a good feeling when the vendors are happy. We hope to expand the vendors next year and extend maybe down to Stanislaus Street (in front of City Hall South).”
The parade was well received as there were families and guests gathered all along Santa Fe Street bundled with their blankets and hot cocoa. Fitzpatrick shared that they estimated about 500 attendees.
“I think the turnout from the community was good and they seemed to enjoy the event,” added Fitzpatrick. “The parade went well. We had not done the parade for the past two years and just about all the staff working it had not worked it before so there was a bit of a learning curve. In the end all went well and I was happy with both the craft faire and parade.”
Former Parks and Recreation Supervisor Kerrie Webb was the emcee for the night coming back out of retirement once again for the festivities.
The judges were posted up in the Christmas Festival booth that included Hector Gonzalez from Go To Printer in Riverbank, Elvira Moreno, and Gonzalo Velasco from Antigua Event Center in Riverbank.
All the winners received trophies. The City Public Works buggy with Snoopy won first place, second place was Mid Valley Pedals Bicycle Club and the third place winner was the Mesa Verde Elementary School float. The Ustach Middle School was the only band and they received a participant Trophy. The two young girls on the ponies with lights received a trophy as well.
According to Fitzpatrick the annual parade will be moved to the second Saturday in December at 5:30 p.m. next year.
She said, “We feel that moving from the holiday weekend will allow us to increase the number of parade entries and craft vendors. Many of the school bands were not available as people were going out of town, etc. We are excited to bring a larger and even better parade to downtown Riverbank next year.”
O’Brien would like to see more marching bands and floats next year along with larger crowds especially as the city of Riverbank will be celebrating its 100th anniversary.
“For me, it is always a thrill to participate in fun events like the parade,” said O’Brien.
Leading off, Riverbank Boy Scout Troop 1100 and Cub Scout Pack 10 handled color guard duties for the parade; they were followed by members of the local Girl Scout Troop 3449.
Mayor O’Brien served as Grand Marshal, driving a small lit cart with his wife Christy.
The local Knights of Columbus entered a vintage automobile and a local resident, Terry Barrett, drove his classic 1956 Chevrolet pulling an equally classic Airstream mobile home, both painted in matching two-tone paint.
A small cart was driven by retired Marine Reservists, decorated with Toys for Tots colors. Riverbank Pound, a community exercise group, paused to exhibit a workout sequence in front of the judges stand.
Freckles the Clown worked both sides of the street, promising the youngsters that she would be blowing up balloon animals after the parade concluded.
Also taking part were New Life Community Church, the ‘Minnie Lizzies’ of the Modesto Shrine Club, Radio Lazar, FM 92.5 from Modesto, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department and bringing up the end of the parade was a vehicle carrying board members of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire District, followed by a large fire engine, carrying Santa and Mrs. Claus.
As the end of the parade floated past the intersection of Third and Santa Fe streets, the crowd move toward the city’s Christmas Tree, growing in Plaza del Rio Park, right near the corner. After a short wait for Santa and Mrs. Claus to dismount from the fire engine and return to the tree, to supervise, and instigate, the lighting of the holiday conifer. After a countdown from five, the audience helped wish the power on, and the tree lit up on cue.
Riverbank News correspondent Ric McGinnis contributed to this story.