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Kids roll, stroll and jingle in Flowery Branch parade
Youngsters didn't just watch this holiday event; they were a part of it
Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive Saturday afternoon at the Flowery Branch Depot as they lead the Historic Flowery Branch Christmas Festival and Kids' Jingle Bell Roll ‘n' Stroll parade.

Which would you rather do? Watch a parade or be in one?

For the Phillips family of Flowery Branch, the answer is obvious. Heather and Justin Phillips brought their son, Braley, 6, and his bike to participate in first annual Jingle Bell Roll 'n' Stroll children's Christmas parade Saturday in downtown Flowery Branch.

"He loves biking, so we knew he would enjoy this," Heather said. "So we decorated it this morning."

Braley was quick to point out that the bike's flair was a team effort. "My mom put the red stuff on the handle bars ... and we put garland on my bike, too," he said.

The parade was part of the town's Christmas festival. Councilwoman Amanda Swafford hurried around the parking lot of the United Methodist Church lining up parade participants along Church Street.

"This is the first time we've ever been able to coordinate anything like this," she said. "It's a learning experience."

The festival was organized by an informal group of Flowery Branch's downtown merchants, many of whom are new to the street.

"They're really just trying to get together ... to put on interesting events to bring traffic to the downtown area," Swafford said.

Thirty-five participants were registered for the parade, led by the Flowery Branch High School drum line and Boy Scouts Troop 228. The parade gathered steam on Church Street before turning onto Main Street.

Brothers Joshua, Jaiden and Jordan, ages 9, 6 and 6, were waiting at the corner with their mother, Gabrielle Marti, 28. They came to see Santa Claus and the parade.

"This is a very tight-knit community," Marti said, "so that's why I think (the event) brings people out."

A fire truck and a golf cart carrying Santa Claus followed the troop and band, preceding dozens of children walking or riding. Bikes and wagons were decorated with shiny garlands and some children were in costume, one pair dressed in long robes and wigs as Mary and Joseph.

The front part of the parade exited onto Railroad Avenue, while the children circled back around to be scored by the judges, which included Flowery Branch Mayor Mike Miller.

Miller said he was looking for children that were creative and put time into their entry. He pointed out one participant that impressed him.

"We've got a drummer on a unicycle, I'm assuming the little drummer boy," he said. "That takes time and effort."

With a bright red drum hanging from his neck, Daniel Schrader, 11, skillfully rolled back and forth to maintain balance on his unicycle. His costume included a dark blue felt jacket with gold buttons, a matching hat, gray gloves and red pants.

Schrader has participated in two other parades in the area and rides his unicycle often.

"I do it every week," he said.

Schrader won first place for best entry in the parade.

Winners of the contest were announced with a drumroll just as it began to rain. Second place went to the decorated wagon entry by Ashley and Haley Payne, ages 8 and 7, of Gainesville.

The Phillips family's teamwork on decorating Braley's bike paid off: Their entry took third place. Justin, Braley's father, attributed their success to the costume and the decoration detail on the bike. The family plans to return next year, but not just to compete.

"Even if we didn't place, we'd still come back," Justin said.

After the parade, families could walk from store to store on the street, where other there was storytelling, face-painting, goodies to eat and goods to purchase behind the depot. Most aspects of the Christmas festival were free, including entry into the parade.

"We were going to charge $5, but then we decided we wanted to have more kids participate," Donna Chalmers, the event organizer, said.

Chalmers, director of Flowery Branch's new community theater, Fifth Row Center, worked with fellow Main Street merchant Janet Upchurch to make the Jingle Bell Roll 'n' Stroll a reality.

The children's parade was more affordable than the bigger parades of previous years, and perhaps more fun for the community.

"It's more participatory than standing on the side lines being an observer," she said, "and it has greater appeal for the kids. They get to ride their bikes and be in a parade, rather than just watching a parade."

Flowery Branch's parade was one of several holiday-themed events this weekend. Gainesville also held a Downtown Open House on Saturday.

Today, Christmas on Green Street is set for 5-7:30 p.m. Green Street will be closed to vehicle traffic from West Academy Street to Enota Avenue from 4-8 p.m.

Other holiday events include the Christmas Tour of Homes from 1-5 p.m. and the Gainesville Ballet's performance of "The Nutcracker" at 2 p.m. at Brenau University's Pearce Auditorium.