Branson Adoration Celebration and Parade: Part of the Ozarks' Christmas Season for Nearly 70 Years
Every year for the past 69 years, Branson has upheld a tradition that began with a group of businessmen sitting around a table at the Shack Café on Commercial Street downtown tossing around ideas.
Among the group were Joe Todd and Steve Miller, according to Greg Pyron. He said it was not too long after World War II, and things were looking up for Branson. They were thinking up ideas for what they could do for visitors during the holidays.
"Because, you know, when visitors come and then they go then, you know, it was really dead, I'm sure, back in those days," he said, "and they proposed the idea of, 'well, what about a Christmas card to the community?'"
Pyron, who has emceed the Branson Adoration Celebration and Parade for 25 years, said Miller, the artist of the group, began sketching on a napkin what a nativity scene up on Mount Branson would look like.
He hung sheets on the hill to get a perspective of how big the figures should be and then began building them in his backyard.
Once he had the backing of civic organizations in town, he completed the figures, and the scene went up for the first time in 1948 as Christmas carols played through loudspeakers.
"And wafted down from the mountainside, and people would gather on the old stone steps down by the lakefront that were there then as a WPA project," said Pyron, "and they could just gather and listen and reflect and remember the reason for the season."
The Adoration parade was added the following year.
It’s always been held at night, according to Pyron, who said it’s the oldest night time noncommercial Christmas parade in the country as far as he can tell.
Edd Akers has been involved with the Branson Adoration Parade since 1972 and makes sure parade entries are lined up correctly and head out when they’re supposed to.
He said he’s been involved with the event for so many years because "it's tradition. It's something that's gone on in this community for a long time. I'm a strong believer in the season and what it really means."
While Akers has been helping with the parade and celebration for a few decades, his family’s involvement goes back even further. He recalled how his dad worked on the event with Joe Todd and Steve Miller.
"At one time there was a picture that I saw with my dad standing with the two of them and a guy named Ray Mang, and they were planning for the scene on the hill," said Akers.
His dad was president of the Branson Chamber at that time. According to Akers, in the early years of the Branson Adoration Parade, the whole city basically closed down for the event.
"People would close their businesses down or the people that owned businesses along the route would have parties and people would come there and watch the parade," he said.
The parade and lighting ceremony have seen a lot of changes over the years. The original route is long gone, and the once sleepy water front is now home to Branson Landing. A zip line begins just below where the nativity scene is staged. The figures themselves are fairly new. Pyron said they had to be replaced in 2012 after a tornado crossed much of the Highway 76 corridor, went through part of downtown, across Lake Taneycomo and up the hill where it destroyed a storage building. That storage building contained the nativity scene.
"Some of the fugures were strewn who knows where," he said. "Somebody may find a shepherd out in a field one of these days or a piece of one. About the only thing we (were) left with were an angel and a sheep."
A local company offered to come up with a reproduction of the adoration scene in 21st Century materials, he said, and today the figures are shiny and “pop like never before.”
Just before Thanksgiving this year, on the fifth anniversary of the tornado, Adoration Committee members gathered at the nativity scene to hold a ceremony. They lit the figures for five minutes and sang carols while expressing gratitude that no lives were lost during the storm.
Hours before the parade began on December 3 this year, people were lined up along the route, sitting in lawn chairs and on curbs, to get the best viewing spots possible.
One of them was Buddy Hurst who’s been coming to the parade for 24 years. Last year, he said proudly, his church, First Baptist of Hollister, won 1st place in the float category.
He said he attends every year because "the Adoration Parade is where we're adoring our Christ savior, the one who saved the world, "so we came to celebrate Him."
When asked what his Christmas season would be like without the parade, he responded, "Bah hum bug." According to Hurst, "it just gets you in the spirit in general."
Marge Shelton is another area resident who includes the Branson Parade in her annual holiday traditions. The Willard resident was waiting for the parade to start along with her great-granddaughter and two daughters. Years ago, she used to go down to Branson to watch as her children marched in the parade. There are no more children of hers in the parade anymore, but some 30 years later, she still likes to attend.
"It's a nice, festive Christmas holiday activity, and it gets you in the spirit of the days to come before the 25th," she said.
Ronnie and Paula Blair traveled from Oklahoma to view the parade. According to Ronnie, this is the third time they've done so.
"It's more of a parade," he said. "We come from Duncan. It may be one band, but there's a lot of horses and four-wheelers."
They both said they appreciate the parade’s theme, “Keeping Christ in Christmas.”
"That's the way we like it," Paula Blair said. Her husband agreed.
Lights flooded the adoration scene on the hill as the LeCroy Sisters sang Silent Night and the Branson High School Band led the parade down Main Street.
According to Edd Akers, the older the Branson Adoration Parade gets, the less it’s thought about by some. But for him it holds a lot of memories.
"I can remember as a kid watching the parade from the sidelines," he said. "It's, for us, and for my family, is really kind of that situation where the Christmas spirit, the Christmas season, doesn't really start until the Adoration Parade is held."
And, despite the many distractions of the holiday season, many people still feel that way. They see the parade as a chance to stop for awhile, enjoy family and friends and focus on the true meaning of Christmas.