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Twilight parade: The chambers gift to Manteca
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Get ready for Christmas, Manteca-style.

Venture down to Yosemite Avenue in downtown this Saturday in time for the 5 p.m. start of the 37th annual holiday parade and you’ll get all of the inspiration you need to get into the spirit of the season.

What will unfold in front of you is a holiday treat that makes the Disneyland Main Street electrical light parade pale by comparison.

There are 100-plus entries in this year’s procession that will make its way past sidewalks packed with little and big kids alike wrapped in blankets and gloves from Library Park to Garfield Avenue by Manteca High.

The Manteca Chamber of Commerce has faithfully been staging the parade for 37 Christmas seasons. It all started with two women who served as the face of the chamber for decades – Mabel Brocchini and the late Gladys Brock – and continues today through the efforts of the business organization that is led by its only paid staff member Debby Moorhead who serves as chief executive officer.

It’s not a solo act by the time you count in the nearly 100 volunteers that provide logistics and well over 1,000 men, women, boys and girls who will ride, pedal, walk, tumble and march down Yosemite Avenue.

Some take exception to the requirement that the chamber calls the procession “the holiday parade.” Rest assured, though, that is to comply with legal requirements that are out of even the city’s control. Yet you will hear parade announcer Tom Hood call it what it truly is – a Christmas procession.

Some – a handful of zealots – go out of their way each year to beat up the chamber for not using the word “Christmas” in advertising the twilight parade so named as it starts just as the sun sets on Manteca.

They were able to use “Christmas” in 2008 because the Manteca Ministerial Association stepped up to cover costs incurred by the city – from police presence to street workers – to help stage the procession. Without any tax dollars paid, the chamber was free to call it what they liked.

If someone disagrees with it, that’s fine. But it is out of the chamber’s control and that of the city as well. Instead of trying to make sure no good deed goes unpunished, perhaps those upset would be willing to pull out their checkbooks to about the tune of $1,400 to cover the public costs of the parade.

For the record, there were a couple of folks who were offended that it was called a Christmas parade last year and wrote letters to the Bulletin saying so. They contend that it was making it just exclusively for Christians.

Folks need to get a gripe.

It’s a parade celebrating a traditional secular holiday just as much as it celebrates the birth of Christ.

More importantly, it is about kids – big and small – being happy.

If you doubt that, check out the smiles Saturday of the horse riders, the bicycling Cub Scouts, the kids riding on floats, and even the firefighters accompanying Santa.

Instead of taking pot shots at the chamber, we should thank them for fostering a tradition that has grown stronger with each passing year especially after a decision about 15 years ago to turn it into a twilight procession.

Manteca was one of the first valley communities to switch their parade from daytime to twilight. They did so in the hopes the magic of the lights and a time away from the hustle and bustle of daily routine on Saturdays would serve to bring the community together.

And it has.

The twilight holiday parade is the Manteca Chamber of Commerce’s gift to the community.

Yes, it takes a lot of people putting together endless hours preparing their entries but the chamber provides the framework along with sponsors who don’t hesitate to help underwrite much of the costs.

The twilight parade is an important part of what makes up the fabric of Manteca.

You can see it in the lights reflected in the eyes of every kid who spends the duration in Saturday’s chilly evening air along Yosemite Avenue enjoying each passing entry waiting for that magic moment when they can spy Santa riding atop a Manteca Fire engine.

It’s a magical moment that even Mickey Mouse himself can’t match.