By Kim West
For Roxi Horton, getting in the Christmas spirit starts when her students return from the Thanksgiving holiday and begin work on their Christmas parade float.
Horton teaches family and consumer science at West Limestone High School, which will be the lead high school in this year’s Athens Reliance Bank Christmas Parade at 6 p.m. Thursday.
The school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America chapter decorates the float entry each year. West Limestone has participated 15 consecutive years, dating back to Horton’s second year.
“Just seeing the kids so excited and willing to stay after school and work on the float — some that are not even in FCCLA — and seeing all that participation, it gets you in the Christmas spirit,” Horton said. “Decorating the float combines the curriculum, teamwork and community service. They’re learning to take their assignment and complete it, with a lot of work after school.”
This year’s parade theme is “Christmas Around the World.” Limestone County students in grades 3-5 were invited to submit theme ideas for the parade. Creekside Elementary School fifth-grader Baylee Mulkey submitted the winning theme and claimed the $100 prize, and her school also won $100.
Horton said about a dozen students will ride the school float. More than 25 students are working on the float, led by FCCLA president Courtney Moran.
“We’re building a gingerbread house with a Christmas tree in front,” Horton said. “We’re going to have packages with ‘Merry Christmas’ in different languages, and there’s going to be flags from different countries around the border of the float.
“We’ll have some of the girls in the little gingerbread outfits they made out of sweat suits, and we’ll have some walk and carry the school banner. Our school mascot is a wildcat, and we’ll have someone dressed in it.”
The Friends of Ripley float won the grand prize last year. The grand prize is $1,000, and prizes for first ($500), second ($200) and third ($100) will be awarded. The best car and best horse will receive $100 apiece.
More than 120 floats have entered this year, compared to 115 in 2011. Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks will walk in the parade with members of the Mayor’s Youth Commission.
An Athens Police Department car and the old Athens Fire and Rescue firetruck will lead the parade. Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church will be the first nonmunicipal float, and Athens-Limestone EMS will bring up the rear.
City of Athens spokeswoman Holly Hollman said the parade would follow its traditional route from Athens High School on U.S. 31 and end at the former Kroger’s building on Jefferson Street.
“The parade will go west on Hobbs Street, around the Square, south on Jefferson Street and end at the Kroger building,” Hollman said. “It will be the normal route, and Santa Claus will be in the parade.”
The grand marshal this year is Athens High alum Charles Woodroof, who was elected as probate judge Nov. 6, and will take office Jan. 14, 2013.
An estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people attended last year’s parade, according to Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson.
“We’ll have a strong law enforcement presence there, but we don’t expect any problems,” Johnson said. “Most everyone is in a good mood, and we’ll have a fairly full staff on duty during the parade in case anything needs to be handled.
“We’ll have some people who will start parking their vehicles along the parade route as early as 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. on the day of the parade. People will leave their trucks there and come back later with a group of people, and they’ll bring food. It’s like a big tailgating party for a lot of people.”
According to weather.com, the parade forecast is 43 degrees with a 10 percent chance of rain and wind speed of 4 miles per hour. It will be unseasonably warm during the day, with a high of 65 degrees.
“It’s always cold for the Christmas parade,” Horton said. “It may be mild the morning of the parade, but not by the time we get there.”