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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Ocala Christmas Parade canceled amid fears of COVID-19 spread

Organizers of the Ocala Christmas Parade have been forced to pull the plug on the highly popular event – largely because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Friends of the Christmas Parade Inc. made the announcement on its Facebook page, saying the decision was made after “careful consultation” with public officials, past participants, sponsors and health professionals. The event, which was scheduled for Dec. 12, would have been the 65th version of the parade that draws thousands of participants and spectators from throughout Central Florida.

Members of The Friends of the Christmas Parade Inc. say they will begin working on the 2021 version of the poplar Ocala Christmas Parade in the spring.

The group said the decision to cancel the parade was based on the continued increase in COVID-19 cases across the local region since Nov. 1 and the recent decision by the Marion County School Board to restrict students and school groups from participating in the event. In addition to increased expenses of holding the event this year, the group also agreed that hosting the parade wasn’t “the safest nor most prudent way to proceed during such an unprecedented year.”

The Ocala Christmas Parade typically draws more than 50,000 people who line Silver Springs Boulevard and more than 6,000 participants from Marion County Public Schools, community organizations and local businesses.

“Our volunteer committee is very disappointed that we are unable to hold this event, as our goal each year is to create a diverse, community-wide event where people of all ages and socio-economic sectors of the community can come together in the spirit of good will and community,” said the Facebook post from The Friends of the Christmas Parade Inc. “We make this decision after hours of discussion and with the understanding that there will be some that may not understand or support the decision to cancel. But public safety and responsible use of taxpayer resources must be a priority.”

The decision by the Marion County School Board to restrict students and schools groups from participating in the Ocala Christmas Parade was one of the main reasons cited for cancellation of the highly popular event.

The Facebook post also said the group remains committed to the annual Christmas parade and will begin planning for the 2021 event in the spring.

“We look forward to seeing the smiles again, as well as the friendly competition it fosters with the community float participants and bands,” the post reads.

The Christmas parade has become the second large-scale event to fall victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. In late October, the Ocala City Council voted unanimously to cancel “Light Up Ocala” and instead hold a series of a smaller events in place of the annual holiday-lighting event that typically draws between 20,000 to 25,000 people to a six-block area and includes everything from music to vendors to parades. Councilmembers made the decision to cancel the event because the city wouldn’t be able to limit the size of the crowd or the time those attending spent in the crowded environment without being able to practice social distancing.