I Love A Parade

Elizabeth Payne over at the Ottawa Citizen decides that she’s going to gripe about the quality of Santa Clause parade the City of Ottawa puts on these days.

Ottawa is the capital of a G8 nation. The country, we are told often enough, that has done the best job of weathering the global financial storm. We are one of this country’s biggest cities. We are a significant tourist destination. What is more, we are a city known for our winter weather.

So can’t we do better than Star Wars Stormtroopers and the Garlic King for our annual Santa Claus parade?

I get it, Elizabeth. Ottawa’s parade hasn’t upgraded to corporate status. You want the idyllic floats seen south of the border with animatronic movements on grand scale, sponsored by Lego, Barbie and other Toys R Us icons. You want the float with the snow covered log cabin, spouting fake smoke with carollers belting out some typical ditty. We’re in agreement that it takes money to have these things and that Ottawa is a capital city of a large first-world nation. It’s awesome you call upon the National Capital Commission to step up to the bat.

But to drop this into the mix:

But, really, Stormtroopers? “Nothing says Christmas like Darth Vader,” a companion quipped, which kind of sums things up.

Oh hell, Liz. You had to kick that hornet’s nest, didn’t you…?

Andy Pegan, a respected member of the 501st, Canadian Garrison, responds via Facebook:

I wanted to thank Ms. Payne for bringing exposure to The Capital City Garrison, or “the Star Wars Guys’ to which as we are often referred to. We have a proud tradition supporting local charities, the Help Santa Toy Parade being one of many.

Our members are part of two worldwide Star Wars costuming groups, the 501st Legion and the Rebel Legion. Collectively, our membership exceeds 6,500 and in 2011 our participation resulted in over $11,000,000 in fundraising for charities and disaster relief. We are all volunteers. We do our ‘weird and quirky’ thing because we love role playing, showing off the costumes that we create with our own hands, and we get fulfilment knowing that our presence can brighten someone’s day, spark imagination and generate funds for needy groups.

So, what do we have to do with Christmas? Ever since 1977, Star Wars has been part of the toy gift giving traditions of children around the world. In fact, in 1977 the demand for the action figures was so great that empty boxes were sold with the promise of the figures to come later. As for the parade, we were invited guests, a fan favourite (aside from Santa, himself) and winners of “Best Novelty Float” in 2012 and in years past. Outside of Ottawa’s new Comic Con, you won’t find more of our members in one place and the attraction to be a part of our float is so great that members from St. Catherines, Ontario to Sherbrooke, Quebec have made the trip to join us. As a member I am proud of our contribution and hope that if organizers make an effort to better the parade in the future as you suggest, we are a part of those plans.

…Buuuurn.

So Liz, the idea here is not to shit on the people showing up and making the effort. You should be shaming the people NOT contributing suggesting new ideas if you want to try to build a community effort. Oh and stop with the snark from the sidelines – it suggests an ignorance to the meaning of why people make an effort.

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3 Comments

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  1. ms. payne needs more than just a lesson on inclusion. she also needs a lesson about history and how festivals change (and are changed by) history and public practice, as well as the political motivation to co-opt and transform different cultures.

    i did find her column slightly surprising in that she does not complain about the lack of christian frippery, which is, overwhelmingly, the most common criticism levelled at santa claus parades (scp) by people who tend to identify as traditionalists. still, she makes the familiar, wistful and inevitably doomed plea to preserve a celebration that echoes times past, a notion not shouted in her column, but merely hinted at (surprisingly, as this is the second most familiar category of complaint). her overall distress seems to be that there seem to be few locals interested in taking the lead when it comes to making the parade more vital, interesting and, nebulously, “better”. my usual response to this sort of complaint is to ask why that task is foisted on others and not the person asking for change, but i also realise she’s fighting a bit of a losing battle if she wants creative people and financial backers to revitalise something as tedious as christmas.

    the three main obstacles to improving the scp are i) the perception that scp is for young children (and families), a group that tends not to attract innovative artists, ii) winterlude draws the big crowds, tourists and is for people of all ages, iii) investors are unlikely to find much appeal in throwing money at an event that doesn’t seem to offer much in return. any one of us could write up a long list of suggestions here, but i guarantee that tweaking any of the standard lists that exist to improve any festival or event would work here, keeping in mind some of the special qualities of ottawa, the season and target communities.

    the gripe you focus on here, though, is one i find particularly entertaining. ms. payne’s rejection of the stormtroopers is a bit obvious, but i can safely ignore the argument about what children’s fantasy figure belongs where, and when. to me, the empire’s soldiers clearly belong at scp simple because the whole festival of christmas is simply saturnalia rebranded to fit within the conventions of christianity. had early christians not so badly wanted to draw the huge population of pagans into the fold, they would not have adopted, without any significant changes, the annual orgy of events that sprawled across the roman empire and was more popular than anything christianity could have hoped for at the time (despite being, in origin and practice, antithetical to what christians claim is the bedrock of their beliefs). without the embracing of pagans, christianity might have faded away (o to dream) as just another failed cult. it seems utterly bizarre to rail against an imperial presence in this one ‘christian’ festival we fetishise more than any other.

    further, while i understand that the garlic king just seems silly to the public, the romans would have approved, though i imagine a few tweaks would be appropriate. saturnalia made a feature of a lord, at some times a person who issued nonsense edicts, and at other times a person to fatten up and murder. the romans also used garlic medicinally, and the idea of celebrating it would have been fine by them. adding to the imperial soldier note, garlic was one of the chief ingredients in the meals of all parts of the roman military machine, so darth garlic is doubly appropriate.

    finally, i find her personal anecdote at the end quite amusing. what could possibly be a more traditional and vital symbol of christmas than a journalist (and member of the editorial board of her paper) riding around in a rickshaw pulled by a man wearing a reindeer hat?

  2. I like how at the end she calls on the “creative people.” Those are the worst people to involve if you want yet another sanitized, cookie-cutter Christmas parade. Of course, I’d much rather see the artistic offbeat parade, Stormtroopers and all.

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