The city kicks off the Christmas season with its annual tree-lighting ceremony Thursday and follows with the annual Christmas parade Sunday afternoon.
The tree-lighting ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday where seasonal refreshments will be served inside Lloyd Andrews City Meeting Hall.
Bell and Haley
At 6:30 p.m. the tradition of having a city employee’s child push the button to light the tree outside continues with Haley Bell having this year’s honors.
Haley is the daughter of Roger and Katherine Bell. Bell is employed as a code enforcement officer within the city’s planning and development department.
“It means a lot to me because it means a lot to her,” Bell said of his 5-year daughter. “It made me happy to know that she’ll be up there making a memory.”
Bell said his daughter can’t wait for the moment she turns the lights to the city’s Christmas tree on. “She just loved the idea. She’s been telling everybody about it.”
Bell said he appreciates the city letting his daughter have the honors this year. “Since back in the days of working in media, the city always treated me well, was always accessible and approachable.”
Parks and recreation Director John Simeon said the tradition of having a child light the tree has been successful. “It gives an opportunity to make your child’s Christmas very special.”
Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Kelly Manning said after the tree-lighting, the Roanoke Rapids High School Chorus will sing Christmas carols.
(Also on Thursday night beginning at 6:30, the town of Halifax will celebrate its tree-lighting at Mural Park on King Street. There will be choirs, visits with Santa and face-painting. Cookies, apple cider and hot chocolate will be served.)
Sunday’s Christmas parade, which begins at 2 p.m., is expected to be held under cloudy skies paired with unseasonably warm temperatures which are predicted to reach 71 degrees.
This year, instead of a grand marshal, the city has chosen to honor Roanoke Rapids Fire Department Battalion Chief Kevin Hawkins as a hometown hero.
Hawkins, who has been diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma, will begin stem cell replacement treatment in his battle in the days following the parade.
“We wanted to recognize our fellow city employee who puts his life on the line when he goes to work,” Simeon said. “Kevin has always been an individual who makes sure everyone else is taken care of. Now is the time to recognize him for all he does for everyone else.”
As Hawkins is being honored, the city will break tradition and have the fire department lead the parade with Hawkins riding in the battalion chief vehicle and one of the city’s fire trucks following with a banner which will include Hawkins’ photo, Manning said.
In honor of Hawkins, parks and recreation staff will be wearing lime green sweatshirts, which is the color of lymphoma awareness.
While the weather won’t be seasonal, Simeon said it will most likely bring more people out to parade.
Manning said six bands — Roanoke Rapids High School; Weldon STEM High School; North Edgecombe High School, Northampton County High School; Warren County High School and Chaloner Middle School — will perform.
“Six bands is a great number,” Manning said.
There will be 41 community floats which will include individual vehicles and trucks pulling trailers with homemade floats.
There will be three church floats which include Calvary Baptist, Good News Baptist and Doors of Praise and Worship.
The Roanoke Rapids High School JROTC and Sons of the American Revolution will march and there will be dance groups performing down the avenue.
There will be two professional floats, one from the AKA Sorority and one carrying the RRHS cheerleaders.
Eight fire and rescue companies have entered the parade.
Two Shrine units will join the parade — the Dunn Clowns and a Hillbilly unit from outside Charlottesville, Virginia.
That a Shrine unit would agree to come that distance, Simeon said, speaks of the organizations dedication. “Shriners are very service oriented. They try to raise money for Shriner hospitals. It shows the heights they will go to raise money.”
Simeon said staff worked hard to bring the parade together. “I’m very proud of the staff for giving the extra effort to reach as many groups to make this the best parade possible.”
There will be five car clubs and one tractor club.
Ramses and RJ, mascots from UNC-Chapel Hill, and Stormy, the Carolina Hurricanes mascot, will also march.
Local elected officials will participate.
There will be horses and Santa and Mrs. Claus will end the parade in a horse-drawn carriage.
Halifax Linen Service is presenting this year’s parade. “It helps us tremendously. It helps offset some of the costs of Shriners and bands. It shows how committed they are in supporting the community,” Simeon said.
Other sponsors include M.J. Price Construction, The Computer Guy and Company and Express Signs.