Decorated cars park next to the Gem to get ready for the parade in 2020. Submitted

BETHEL — The annual Main Street Holiday Car Parade will kick-off the holiday spirit in Bethel on December 18 starting at 4:15 p.m. at the parking lot besides The Gem Theater. Everyone is welcome; it is free to all.

Everyone can either join in their vehicles and follow the Firetruck where Santa will be leading the way, glowing with lights, or they can walk or stand on the pavement to watch the parade. Volunteer and Coordinator Stephanie Herbeck describes how everyone had decorated their vehicle for the parade last year.

“Some people showed up with a string of lights. Some people had a lit wreath on the front of the truck,” explains Herbeck. “There was a jeep – they built a chimney on the back [of their car]. Like a box probably painted the bricks on it, like you know, Santa’s coming down the chimney. A couple people just went all out; their truck had a big like circular lit light and all this tinsel… I was so happy to see that…seeing how much energy people brought to it.”

Everyone driving is free to play their own Christmas music/carols. The parade will wrap through Bethel and onto Main Street and to the Common where all the trees will be lit, including the one on the Gazebo.

“And there was there was this moment going up because I think by Christmas last year, it just gotten to – everybody was really feeling it,” explains Herbeck. “Like I said, and so we’re driving on Main Street and people were out on the sides of Main Street watching the car and [their] faces lit up, like super happy, and everybody’s listening to their own carols and everybody’s beeping as they’re going by and it just had this moment you know, during this whole kind of bummer of a season. That just kind of hit me like, we needed this, this year. And so this year, I figured we would do the same thing.”

In the days leading up to the parade, Herbeck brings decorations along with decorations she’s collected from the community. She wraps the bell in the Common with Christmas lights, and last year with her children, she decorated the fountain, surrounding it with candy canes. In 2020, one person lent out a massive blow-up polar bear. The community lends all sorts of things to help decorate and bring in the holiday spirit.

Herbeck explains how the idea for the car parade came to be in 2020.

“Everything was getting canceled, you know, and I was super bummed out about that. And the kids were bummed out that all these holiday traditions that we normally take part in weren’t going to happen because of COVID. I was like, well, maybe we can try out things changed around.

“So last year, actually I wasn’t sure what the show up would be, but it was this perfect little pod situation. You know, everybody shows up in their own vehicle with their own group of people that they’re used to, and family decorate cars and then head up Main Street and then we light up the Common up there.”

Being one of the main volunteers who stepped up to coordinate, Herbeck describes why the holidays, particularly in Bethel, are so important to her.

“We used to bring our kids (toddlers then) to the Jingle Bell Walk years back and it became something of a holiday tradition for our family,” says Herbeck. “We’d ring our bells from the Post Office up Main Street to light the big tree (now gone) on the Common and then head over to Christmas at the Moses Mason House.

“These little community traditions tend to shape our memories around certain times of the year. We all felt so isolated last year… the transition to the car parade allowed the community to come together while still remaining naturally distanced. I’m looking forward to checking out what people do with their vehicles this year!”

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