The Walla Walla Macy’s Festival of Light, or, It’s a Small Town, It Doesn’t Need But One Light

Walla Walla trolleyLast year Susanne and I went to observe the local Holiday parade—oh heck, it’s Walla Walla, we don’t need to pretend to be PC. Or rather, calling it a “holiday parade” is really a misnomer, because in fact it’s a Christmas parade. Yes, Christmas. As in, not Kwanzaa, not solstice, not any of the Jewish High Holidays, and certainly, most definitely, how could you even suggest it, anything Arabic. Last year, at least, the floats were about two thirds Christian church groups and denominations, one third the Elks Club and dog rescues. So for those of you doing the math, yes, there were six floats. Okay, there were a few more, but the whole event was over in 10 minutes. And each float was really intense, with lots of waving, small children—the one who got my “Best Waver” award was tween girl who gesticulated somewhere between Queen Elizabeth II and Maddona’s “strike a pose” vogue choreography. Seriously, the girl had it down. This year there were more floats, no MiniCooper brigade, although there were a slew of 60s and 70s-era muscle cars, lots more church groups, and a few fire trucks decked out in white lights, with Santa atop the ladder, which was pretty freaking cool, if you ask me. I was on a ladder truck once. I was 4, with my preschool class, and it was so exciting I nearly peed all over the vehicle. Something about a red, plastic firefighter’s helmet was just too much for me. Maybe that’s why I went into computers.

Anyway, there’s nothing really wrong with church groups per se, just that one gets  a little tired, whilst standing on the sidewalk in the 6pm pitch darkness, fending off folks who are walking with the floats and handing out scripture, lest one’s soul take a detour to that fire and brimstone place at the end of one’s life. That’s presumptive. To my mind, if I am interested in your church, I’ll check it out all on my own. My grandmother moved a lot with her farmer/carpenter husband, and she practically interviewed the pastors of competing churches in each new town to see which one would best reflect her family’s viewpoint. Obviously not a shrinking violet, my grandmother, and I want to applaud her initiative to basically make churches compete against each other. I’d like to see a sack race, actually, with a Ryrie Study Bible at the goal line, maybe.

But really, it’s just a little too exclusionary for me. People should feel excitement to see a town’s parade, not feel alienated by it. I’m sure it’s not their intention; it’s just a reflection of the fact that for 36,000 residents, Walla Walla has a lot of churches. DC certainly had its houses of prayer as well—drive down 16th Street NW into Maryland (which is also the President’s ground escape route, by the way) and you will count more than 25 churches and synagogues, as well as other buildings for less mainstream-in-America faiths, like Baha’i, Buddhism, and Hinduism. In Walla Walla, a small group of Quakers meets in the faculty lounge of a Whitman College building because there aren’t enough of them to warrant building a Friend’s House. There is a synagogue on Alder Street, at which I’ve never seen a person coming or going. Maybe the congregants take secret tunnels in and out of it.

My intention isn’t to gripe about Christians. I was raised Catholic (I can hear the booing and hissing), and it imparted a lot of valuable lessons and beliefs I hold dear to this day. Don’t break your chalk in anger. Always put the period inside the quote marks, always, always, ALWAYS. No talking during announcements. You will never know everything, so don’t even try. Turn the other cheek, always, always, always. The good in life that you do counts, so do some good, you rug rat. Forgive the sinner, hate the sin.

This last life lesson was highlighted my senior year of parochial high school, in religion class. Religion class for seniors was all about how to have “The Catholic Marriage,” which, now that I think of it, was also a bit presumptive, if not at least unintentionally pressuring us to get married right away. We were mostly 17, after all. At any rate, our teacher, Sister Doretta, who I gather had never actually participated in Catholic Marriage, was leading discussion that spring, which must have been tough. I mean, I felt no need to continue the last month of class—I’d already selected my college and was marking big red Xs on my calendar as a personal countdown to getting to leave New Jersey. So it was only with one ear that I heard her talk about one tiny little paragraph at the end of the workbook (don’t even ask what our workbook practices were about) on homosexuality. And then she had my attention, because the official stance didn’t make sense to me.

17-year-old Me: Wait a minute, Sr. Doretta. It’s not being gay, it’s the behavior the Church opposes?

Sr. Doretta: Yes, exactly.

17YOM: Okay, okay. So you can be gay, you just can’t do anything?

Sr. Doretta: Well, right. It’s the sin, not the person.

17YOM: Wait, wait, wait. They could be gay, as long as they’re celibate?

Sr. Doretta: (sounding exasperated) Yes, child.

17YOM: Well, then they might as well be clergy!

Out of the mouths of babes. I wonder what she told the other sisters in the nunnery at supper that night.

Sr. Doretta: So this smart ass in class today figured out that gay people can be clergy.

Sr. Barbara: (finishing a sip of water from a crystalline challis) Oh, dear.

Sr. Cornelius: Let me guess. (chews slowly) The Maroon kid.

Sr. Doretta: You are a wise woman, Sister Cornelius.

Sr. Cornelius: (cutting into her roast lamb) Please. I’ve got that character for homeroom. Always talking during announcements.

If there were a float of nuns at the Walla Walla parade, I’d have to burst into laughter. Maybe I just like my religious figures to come with a jaundiced eye, instead of a 4-color, glossy cardstock notice that I too could be a fervent follower of Christ. Maybe I prefer being a fatass follower instead. Maybe, just maybe, I think my work for the Lord is by making sure I witness to everyone that they should always always always put the period inside the quote marks.

As it is, I’m glad people can be spiritual however they want, as long as they respect my ability to do that as well. As for the Walla Walla Christmas parade, I greatly enjoyed the guy riding his snowmobile on skateboards, and the grandfather who pulled his granddaughter behind his tractor that had so recently been used for field work that it left little bits of wheat behind in the street.

I was a bit concerned for the people who kept dashing across the street, looking for a better view, but I quickly realized they were more than capable of clearing the road before the vehicles traveling 8 miles an hour got anywhere near them. Every so often someone driving a pickup truck would get to the end of a side street, totally befuddled that there was some kind of event going on, and then you could see a light appear over their head as they realized that they had in fact, driven around a detour sign. So that’s what that orange thing was, they’d appear to think, scratching their heads.

The parade this year was much longer, and we were chilled to the bone by the end of it, having only moved enough to keep up with the bystanders who insisted on creeping into the road. These people needed the New York City police barricades, lest they begin attacking the parade floats like joyous zombies. If the parade had gone on much longer the trucks would have only had about 4 feet of street left, the rate we were all crouching in on them.

We walked back home, our legs frozen but still willing to ambulate so that we could reach warmth. Susanne poured a few chocolate martinis and I drew a fire, and I realized I am a fervent follower of Holidays. What a nice distraction from awful weather.

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3 Comments on “The Walla Walla Macy’s Festival of Light, or, It’s a Small Town, It Doesn’t Need But One Light”

  1. Sharon
    December 12, 2009 at 2:12 am #

    I have never gone to the Walla Walla parade but you must not miss the house light in Milton-Freewater. Really, only one house. My mother says they haven’t finished setting up but maybe by next weekend they will be ready. The house is at 12th
    Avenue and Jacquelyn Street. When you go, drive carefully, it is a bit of a steep hill. Bring a big hot cup of coffee and make sure your radio tunes to the low level AM station the homeowners broadcast on.
    Yes, this is a light SHOW. With music. Lasting at least ten minutes. Maybe 20 by now. When I say it last several years ago it ended on “Come All Ye Faithful” and various plastic nativity scene figures lighting up which was a little tacky. (and I am a card-carrying Christian..I mean a plastic Baby Jesus that glows??) The best part was either the frogs or the snowball fight. I can’t decide even now.
    I am coming to the Walla Walla Valley on Christmas Eve morning and leaving in the afternoon so I will miss it again. Although now I am having a mental debate about whether the light show would be worth a four hour trip. Maybe not. But if my train into the Tri-cities is late, I am so waiting to see it.

    • evmaroon
      December 12, 2009 at 6:37 am #

      Wow, now I have to check that out! Thanks, Sharon!

  2. December 4, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

    Now I have to check that out thank you sharon

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