Durham County

This Santa made history and became a big hit at the Durham Holiday Parade

Both parents and their kids received a special message from Santa at this year’s parade

Warren Keyes, dressed as Santa Claus, appeared Saturday, Dec 2, as the Durham Holiday Parade’s first African-American Santa. He hoped his appearance would inspire both children and adults to make the world a better place for all.
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Warren Keyes, dressed as Santa Claus, appeared Saturday, Dec 2, as the Durham Holiday Parade’s first African-American Santa. He hoped his appearance would inspire both children and adults to make the world a better place for all.

The star of the Durham Holiday Parade undoubtedly was Santa Claus.

At the end of the procession that took over Main Street in downtown Durham on Saturday morning was jolly old St. Nick. But he was not just any old dude in a spiffy red suit. He was a jovial and jolly soul whose baritone “Ho, Ho, Ho’s” and “Merry Christmases” echoed through Five Points to the delight of the throngs who shook off the early drizzle waiting for his arrival.

The arrival of Santa, who trailed the more than 90 other parade participants, was a joyous occasion for kids and adults alike who had never seen such a Santa in a Durham parade. For the first time in the parade’s history, Santa was African American.

He was greeted at Five Points with shouts from kids saying they were good kids. The adults smiled as they held smaller children up to get a glimpse of the big guy in red.

“I’ve been a good girl this year,” one teenager shouted.

Another giggled with joy.

Santa was the real deal. He had everyone believing.

Saturday’s parade was held under threatening skies. A dampness was in the air and there were a few sprinkles. But once the floats, marching bands, dance troupes, city vehicles and various other participants started up Main Street, barely a drop fell.

“We are so glad that the weather held up,” said Cynthia Booth, Public Affairs Specialist for Durham Parks & Recreation. “People were slow coming because of the rain but it held off and we were able to have the parade, which was a great success.”

Booth didn’t have estimated attendance figures from the Durham Police Department immediately after the parade but said the crowd gathered at the second performance area on the parade route near the intersection of Main and Chapel Hill streets was good-sized. The sidewalks there were filled people who had brought their own chairs and by numerous others standing and watching the parade.

Many who were there also took advantage of the nearby restaurants and cafes by ordering coffee, hot chocolate and other sweet treats. There also were some food trucks that were able to set up along the route in some of the parking spots.

The parade marshals were retiring Mayor Bill Bell and his replacement, Mayor-elect Steve Schewel. They led the procession and were greeted by friendly shouts all along the route.

For Bell, the parade was among of his last official duties after a nearly 40-year career in Durham politics. He retires from public office this week after 16 years as mayor. Schewel, who was elected mayor in November, will shift from his seat on the city council to his new role in city government Monday night.

When they got to the end of the route, a man came up to them and asked Schewel what he was going to do as mayor.

“I am going to do like he did,” Schewel said referring to Bell.

Schewel said he thought the parade went well, too.

“Super fun,” Schewel said. “I liked it. It was a good parade. There were a lot of good floats and bands and the weather hung out for us. I was a little worried there for a while.”

Durham Holiday Parade with Grand Marshals Mayor William V. "Bill" Bell & Mayor-elect Steve Schewel

One woman, Mary Odom-Justice, came from Oxford to Durham for the parade.

“I haven’t seen this parade in a long time,” Odom-Justice said. “There was a lot of enthusiasm. There were a lot of colors. The children were having a good time. I felt like the old parade has come back.”

The parade was back in downtown for the second straight year after taking an eight-year hiatus.

Booth said the Durham Parks & Recreation Department had received a lot of positive feedback leading up to the parade and that it was fulfilled with success of the parade.

“We hadn’t been to a parade in a long time,” said parade-goer Sonia Suitt. “It was good to have it back. I enjoyed the parade years ago when we used to come. We thought it would be a good outing.”

Her daughter Lindsay, who is a student at Durham School of the Arts, said she was looking forward to getting some candy thrown her way.

“That’s my favorite part,” Lindsay Suitt said.

After the parade, the holiday celebration continued on nearby Blackwell Street where the city’s Holiday Fun Fest gave visitors the chance to enjoy snow sledding, pony rides, inflatable bounce houses, arts and crafts activities, visits with Santa and train rides at the American Tobacco Campus.

The city also lit a tree at CCB Plaza.

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