Bluffton begins the Christmas season with its annual parade

Bluffton kicked off the holiday season with its annual Christmas tree lighting and 50th annual Christmas Parade through the Old Town historic district.

The holiday festivities began Dec. 3 when Mayor Lisa Sulka and this year’s parade grand marshal Dianne Reynolds lit a 30-foot Christmas tree at Martin Family Park. The park was packed with residents as the Bluffton Middle School band and M.C. Riley Singing Eagles performed and Sulka introduced the weekend’s festivities.

After the tree lighting, families were encouraged to go to Santa’s Workshop, which was set up at DuBois Park’s pavilion where kids would be able to meet Santa and take photos. Later in the evening, a viewing of the movie “Elf” began at Martin Family Park.

Sulka said there are more than 2,800 lights on the tree in Martin Family Park and over 20,000 lights throughout the town’s other parks.

“This is truly a year-long process and we certainly hope you enjoy all the lights and decorations everywhere you see,” Sulka said.

The next morning, the town held its annual Christmas Parade. Organizations and businesses throughout the community participated and the streets of the historic district were filled with residents.

One parade tradition is that the town selects a panel of judges to determine the best float and performance. This year, three members of the community were selected to act as judges. The town said they represent “the unsung heroes of the pandemic.”

“Rob Vaughn is the owner and pharmacist of Bluffton Pharmacy. Millie Collins is a supervisor of a housekeeping shift at Hilton Head Hospital, and Tiffany Burnett is a nursing supervisor at Hilton Head Hospital,” town public information officer Debbie Szpanka said.

The judges selected winners for the categories best float, best performance and State of Mind. The winner for best float was Palmetto Animal League, the winner for best performance was Red Cedar Elementary Drum and Dance Team, and the winner for State of Mind was Bluffton ROTC/JROTC.

“The Christmas Parade has been a staple of our town for 50 years, and is one that thousands of residents and guests wait for,” Sulka said. “Last year with COVID, we had to think out of the box, but in no way were we going to cancel such a tradition, so we had a ‘reverse parade.’ The excitement for this week is high, beginning with the lighting of the tree, the movie in the park and the parade on Saturday.”

On the night of the tree lighting, Sulka honored the person who started Bluffton’s Christmas Parade in 1971: grand marshal Dianne Reynolds. Sulka said Reynolds began the parade 50 years ago after she was asked to do so by then-Mayor Grady Messex.

Sulka said Reynolds got help from her friend Mariam Brown, and together they created a Bluffton tradition. Reynolds’ son Michael said the parade was small when it first started, but he has seen it grow and get better over the years.

Michael said his mom doesn’t see the parade as something she created; she just sees it as a Bluffton event that everyone worked for. He said she is a Blufftonite at heart and she did whatever she could for the town.

Her list of accomplishments is long, but Michael said her “best legacy” was creating Bluffton’s football little league. Reynolds started the league in 1971 so her sons could have a place to play football. At the time, the league was named the Bluffton Crusaders.

That league is still part of the community today, now named the Bluffton Bulldogs, and Sulka said it “has served thousands girls and boys as a place to play football and cheer, and most importantly, a place to feel included.”

The parade may have started small with only a few people participating, but Sulka said the spirit was big and Reynolds is the reason for that.

Michael said his mother will be celebrating her 79th birthday Dec. 13 and she has been a member of the Bluffton community for 60 years.

“I’m sure she was very happy to do what she did back then; we were Bluffton, we were a part of Bluffton,” Michael said. “In my early days she was always doing something for Bluffton; she’s a genuine, good-hearted local person.”

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