The most wonderful time of the year
There is always a lot of debate about which time of year is, really, the most wonderful. Traditionalists, huddled around the spiked eggnog, insist it's Christmas. Water-skiers and sand castle enthusiasts counter with the joys of high summer. Autumn color fans bookmark the Weather Channel's Fall Foilage map for their perfectly-timed woodland tours. And Spring, well, Spring is left to the gardeners and the non-allergic among us to trump. But they're all wrong. I know, empirically, when the most wonderful time of year is. Because I've experienced it, year after year, in downtown Saint Paul.
Admittedly, this wonderful time is brief – it happens over the course of an hour, hour and a half on a good year. Also, it's pretty site specific, so if you don't happen to live, work, or stumble through the downtown area at just the right moment, chances are you'll remain tragically in the dark. But it's that elusive quality that's actually the best part; it's what makes it, truly, the most wonderful time of the year. It just sneaks up on you, without warning.
I speak, of course, about the Saint Paul School Patrol Parade Day.
The school patrol parade honors participating students of Saint Paul's public and private elementary schools' crossing guard program. For all their hard work, once a year, these dedicated patrols are given a parade, complete with police escorts and marching bands. Against all their training and instincts, the off-duty patrols get to strut right down the middle of the streets of downtown Saint Paul, cheering and chanting their particular school's superiority. The final destination is a park and a picnic. (Which, really, shouldn't all final destinations be?)
Now, this is the Brigadoon of parades. One minute, you're making a mad dash to the post office and the next, you're being not quite pushed (because this is, after all, Saint Paul) behind an orange barricade, to make room for an elementary wave being feted by high-school brass and woodwinds sections, as they all wend down 4th Street on a beautiful, sunny day.
it's all perfectly lovely. And moving. And wonderful. It's wonderful
because it's so simple. Because it takes you completely by surprise.
Because you were on your way to work, and a parade broke out. What
better excuse for being late can anybody ever have? And it's not just
any parade. It's a parade that celebrates kids. That's it. No other
agenda. There are no floats emblazoned with corporate sponsorships,
no vendors selling twenty-five cent trinkets for fifteen dollars, no
politicians glad-handing for your vote.
Everything stops. Buses and cars stop. Grown-ups stop. People, perfect strangers, stop. They find a spot to perch, the steps of an office building, sit in the sun and applaud these kids as they march by. This vivid, florescent moment is as uncomplicated as it gets: kids being celebrated, kids celebrating.
Saint Paul is the home of the national school patrol program. Who knew? In fact, on February 21,1921, the very first School Police crossing was made at Summit Avenue and Kellogg Boulevard. And, of course, it was the same year the very first parade was held.
I would wager any amount of money on that day in 1921, some citizen of Saint Paul was taken by surprise to see a group of students from Como Park Elementary parading unexpectedly through the sunny streets of downtown Saint Paul. That citizen, no doubt, stopped, leaned against a trolley stand, smiled and thought, “This is the most wonderful time of the year...and Christmas is nice, too.”