When the annual Bluffton Christmas Parade steps off at 10 a.m. Dec. 7 in front of Town Hall on Bridge St., it is likely that most participants won’t even think about its history.
That might be because the parade is older than all of its school-age participants, many of their leaders, and some of their parents.
What has been called in some circles “The Most Eccentric Christmas Parade in the U.S.” was first held in 1971, making this year’s spectacle the 49th time Bluffton has turned out to celebrate in its unique style.
Grady Messex was the mayor of Bluffton, and he thought the town needed a holiday celebration.
He called on Dianne Reynolds to organize a parade. Her husband, Cecil, had served as both the Bluffton Police Chief and Fire Chief, so she had close ties to town leadership. “I told him I would try,” Reynolds said. “I saw Miriam Brown at the post office the next day and asked her to help me. She said yes.”
The first parade was held on the second Saturday in December, Reynolds said.
“We had Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, children wrapped as gifts, church choirs singing carols, two antique cars and a couple of horses,” she said. “The kids loved being in the parade. Afterwards, they would all go to Town Hall and we’d give them fruit and nuts, and they could meet Santa Claus and have their picture made. Everybody loved having their picture made with Santa,” Reynolds said.
The parade started at the “old Piggly Wiggly,” Reynolds said, which was on the corner of May River Road and what is now Pin Oak Street (ironically near the end of the current parade route).
The first Grand Marshal, Reynolds said, was Brantley Harvey, who was a state representative and would later become Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina.
Reynolds always invited politicians, she said. “David Beasley rode in my parade before he was elected Governor. I invited Strom Thurmond and Nancy every year. I always got letters from them.”
Reynolds, with help from many friends, she said, continued organizing the parade through 1975, when she “finally let the Town government take over,” she said. “I have such fond memories.”
Reynolds continued volunteering with the parade for another 15 years or so, usually inviting the politicians and others.
In 1976, Babbie Guscio became the parade organizer. “The Town asked me and I said that sounded like fun,” she said.
In her early days, Guscio said, “Santa had to get dressed in the meat cooler at Scott’s Meats. After a couple of years, it was hard trying to find a Santa, because nobody was willing to do that.”
Guscio continued many of the traditions, with school children and music, and created some new ones. “One year, I invited the mayors of all the Blufftons in America,” she said. “Five of them came. They were thrilled and so was I.”
Guscio recalled that in the late ’80s, Cyndi Pride, a local teacher, started the Bluffton Ladies Drill Team. The ladies all borrowed a power drill from their husbands and boyfriends, and marched to various chants.
Ann Graham was an original member of the team. “We each wore a tradesperson’s apron, from which we threw candy during the parade with appropriately decorated hand drills, which twirled during our march. As I recall, we had a few ‘dance’ routines which included the Chinese Fire Drill and the Can Can.
“We also had a chant that we sweetly yelled, ‘We’ve left our husbands alone with the children with nothing but broccoli left, left, left right left!’ ” Graham said.
Pride noted in a 2011 blog post that she and the team marched for 17 years, until she moved away in 2007.
Also in the mid to late ’80s, the Baby Brigade was born, with babies in decorated strollers being pushed by their daddies. “Mark Flowers and Peter Cram were among the first,” Guscio said. That group continued until the ’90s.
Then there was the Year of the Buzzard. “George Heyward was mayor (from 1982 to 1990). He had this thing about buzzards,” Guscio said. “He made it the official town bird.” That was in 1985.
For at least a couple of years, Heyward dressed up as a buzzard and rode in the back of a garbage truck. “He wore my black stockings,” Guscio said. “That was funny. Because I’m short and so were my stockings.”
Organization of the parade changed again a few years ago when the Town took the reins once again.
This writer recalls one year, perhaps in the late 1990s, when a convertible with New Jersey tags rolled down the street after the traditional Santa had already passed. Spectators still don’t know if it was an intentional parade entry, or just tourists lost in a small town.
One tradition that continues is that there is no limit to the number of Santa Clauses that might appear. Though there is only one official Santa, highly anticipated at the end of the parade, high atop a fire truck, there might be as many as six before him.
Even now, one never knows what or who will appear in the parade. It’s probably a good idea to not miss it .