By Loretta Fulton
The very first KTXS Christmas Lights Parade is one that David Caldwell just can’t forget.
And for good reason. The parade is the highlight of the annual downtown City Sidewalks celebration, held the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. The event is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and thousands of people are expected to once again pack the downtown streets for all the festivities.
The parade, now sponsored by KXVA Fox 15, takes up a good part of the evening, with close to 200 entries. But back in the day, when Caldwell was promotions manager for KTXS, it wasn’t that way. In fact, a company in Louisiana was hired to send a half dozen floats to Abilene to supplement the handful of local floats in the early years. Even with the professional floats, it wasn’t enough.
“The first KTXS Christmas parade lasted six minutes,” Caldwell said.
Abilenians have gotten used to much longer parades since then, with bands, Christmas floats, trucks, tractors, horses, everything you’d expect in a big parade. This year’s parade will be Tuesday, Nov. 27, in downtown Abilene.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of City Sidewalks, events will be held every day from Monday, Nov. 26, through Saturday, Dec. 1, topped off by the Abilene Philharmonic’s Home for the Holidays concert.
City Sidewalks is sponsored by the Abilene Downtown Association, and members are excited about the expanded event, said Allison Carroll, president of the association and owner of Monks Coffee Shop. New events have been added and the window decorating contest expanded.
“We’re hoping to continue that into the future,” Carroll said.
A special event will be the lighting ceremony on the evening of Monday, Nov. 26. A tribute will be paid to Wilma Butman and the family of the late Tom Rigsby, who died Aug. 3. Butman and Rigsby, known as “Mr. Downtown” for his undying support of downtown Abilene, were involved with City Sidewalks from the beginning.
Butman recalled that Rigsby was chairman of the City Sidewalks Committee of the Abilene Downtown Association for several years. Butman succeeded him, but before she took on that role, she was a member of the committee.
“I served on the City Sidewalks committee doing anything needed from 1989 to 2015,” Butman said.
The committee has only had a handful of chairpersons since it was founded. Butman was followed by Christine Brockman. Mary Cooksey, director of 2-1-1 Texas A Call for Help, is the chair this year.
Abilenians and out-of-town visitors to today’s City Sidewalks festivities, and especially the parade, would be surprised at its humble origins. Before it was City Sidewalks, the event was known as Christmas Open House. At the same time that the Abilene Downtown Association was sponsoring that event, KTXS was hosting a small parade around the Mall of Abilene, ushering Santa in for the holidays. Rigsby approached KTXS about moving the parade downtown, and a partnership was born.
Caldwell, who now is general manager of KTXS, was promotions director at the time and the job fell into his lap, something he loves to this day.
Highlights of the 2018 City Sidewalks
City Sidewalks, the annual event ushering in the Christmas season in downtown Abilene, will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and the event is expanding, with events planned daily from Monday, Nov. 26 through Saturday, Dec. 1. The event is sponsored by the Abilene Downtown Association. President Allison Carroll, owner of Monks Coffee Shop, said the association wants to continue some of these new or expanded events in the future.
• Music on the streets, with radio stations broadcasting live from North Second and Cypress
• Photo stations
• Window decorating contest, with plans to build albums on Facebook for a people’s
MONDAY, NOV. 26
• Lighting ceremony, time and place to be announced. The event will honor Wilma Butman
and the family of the late Tom Rigsby. Festive sweaters will be the suggested apparel
for the day and evening.
• United Way Agencies’ Giving Tuesday Vigil will begin at 7 p.m. in the SoDA District.
TUESDAY, NOV. 27
• Live entertainment and food trucks
• KXVA 15 Christmas Lights Parade, “Home for the Holidays”
WEDNESDAY, NOV. 28
• Sidewalk caroling, beginning at 6 p.m.
• Voice Abilene will attempt to set a Guinness World Record for most choirs singing a
Christmas carol at one time.
THURSDAY, NOV. 29
• Galleries and museums open late
• Carols & Ale, time and place to be announced
• Downtown walking tour of holiday decorations, time to be announced
FRIDAY, NOV. 30
• Christmas Pop-Up Market at The Arrangement, time to be announced
• Horse-drawn carriage rides
• Christmas in the Garden, 6-8 p.m. Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden
• Downtown walking tour of holiday decorations
SATURDAY, DEC. 1
• 5K Reindeer Run, beginning and ending at the south entrance of the Convention Center
• NCCIL Family Fun Day
• Abilene Philharmonic “Home for the Holidays” concerts
“I was producer of the parade the very first year,” he said, “and was for most of them.”
KXVA Fox 15 took over the sponsorship three years ago, Caldwell said. He remembered the logistical issues involved in finding the right place to set up so that the timing for the 6:30-7 p.m. broadcast window would be right. Over the years, the broadcast center moved from one place to another trying to find just the right spot so that the 30 minutes of broadcasting would catch most of the parade.
Most years, weather permitting, the parade goes off without a hitch. But the weather doesn’t always permit. The event was postponed one year due to an ice storm, Caldwell recalled. Some years the weather is suited for a Christmas card, other years it’s too cold for comfort. On the day of the event in 2017, the high for the day topped 70, hardly the kind of weather that makes you want to hum “Silver Bells.”
The parade has had its humorous moments. Caldwell recalled that one year early in the process, a float brought in by the Louisiana company carried 8-foot tall letters that spelled NOEL– if you were looking at it from the right direction. If you happened to be on the other side of the street, you were left wondering who LEON was.
Even though KTXS no longer sponsors the parade, Caldwell said it will always be special to him. That and the annual sponsorship and broadcast of Mission: Thanksgiving from Arrow Ford are among his favorite events.
The memories of lining up the floats for the Christmas parade and working out the logistics are fond memories for Caldwell–kind of like memories of Christmas morning. He may not be doing that anymore, but he is pleased with the way the parade continues to grow.
“I’m very proud of where it’s going,” he said.