Deconstructing a Parade: a Look at What Happens Before

Ship Bottom Christmas Parade Returns
Dec 06, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill Vic Stulga of Beach Haven West puts the final touches on his canary yellow 1929 Ford Roadster.

On the morning of Dec. 2, Ship Bottom looked as it would on any other beautiful offseason day, with blue sky overhead and clean, white, almost vibrant clouds swirling against it. Long Beach Boulevard was nearly empty, but something was lurking just around the corner, yet it obviously wasn’t sinister. Any observer could see the signs on the Boulevard with the live Christmas trees from Sandy Tees, and empty beach chairs already in place for use later in the day. Up farther, near the municipal complex, was the biggest sign of all – the bandstand announcing the 38th annual Christmas parade.

Yes, Victoria, Santa Claus does exist, and he was in Ship Bottom Saturday with the crowd that gathered on both sides of the Boulevard for the Deck the Hulls-themed parade to welcome the Christmas season. From the outside looking in, the spectacle was festive, magical and maybe even a little nostalgic for some. Before the Southern Regional Junior ROTC got the show started by making a right onto the Boulevard from Fifth Street, it looked and felt a whole lot different.

It was relatively quiet at the staging area around 10:30 a.m., except for Barnegat Avenue, where parade participants decorated their floats along the shoulder of the road as motorists slowed their pace to a near roll. Thirty minutes later, the area told a whole other story. With traffic beginning to build, borough police made sure they had a presence in the area. Fifth Street was roped off, and limited traffic was allowed down other side streets as more participants arrived, putting the finishing touches on the floats.

The quiet winter silence was replaced with not just the din from participants, but the cadence from the percussion section of the Southern Regional Golden Rams Marching Band as they practiced in the back corner of the field near the Ethel A. Jacobsen School. It’s the same field where the fire engines and other emergency response vehicles lined up, pulling onto the green grass like a caravan. On Sixth Street, members of the Southern Regional Key Club decorated their float – a partnership with the Maximilian Foundation and the Kiwanis Club of LBI.

“We started two months ago,” Peg Malley, Key Club adviser, said. “We had a brainstorming meeting with members of the Kiwanis Club, and then the students sketched out the plans.”

The students, she said, worked on the decoration before and after school, whenever they had time since so many are involved with sports and other activities. Even the club president, Chris Malley, had to choose between being on the float or behind the scenes with the other Southern News Network members who recorded the parade. He chose the float, along with 25 other Key Club members, some who were coming straight from their SAT tests.

Just off to the side of the pickleball court, members of the Southern Regional boys baseball team entertained themselves as only boys could – seeing who could throw the hardest– while up the road on Barnegat Avenue, Vic Stulga of Beach Haven West put the final touches on his canary yellow 1929 Ford Roadster as his wife, Diane, and their granddaughter, Meghan Hall, watched.

“You have to have a good imagination,” he said while affixing more decorations, and pointing out a patio umbrella he had made into the ship’s wheel. “Most of the stuff comes from garage sales and other parades. As soon we know the theme, we start.”

This year, he re-purposed his wife’s grandmother’s lace curtain for the boat sail. He painted it orange, but Diane said her grandmother would be pleased that the curtain was still in use.

Stulga, who has been participating in the Christmas parade for more than a dozen years, doesn’t work off plans. He just does whatever comes into his mind. And sometimes, his wife says, that means he jolts awake at 3 a.m. with an idea.

One of the last items he fastened to the helm was a seagull that belonged to his son. “It’s 26 years old; it goes everywhere with us,” he said.

The excitement continued to build as organizers and volunteers zipped around the staging area, gearing up for the parade. About an hour before kickoff, the sun dipped behind the clouds and it began to feel a little more like Christmas. By the time Santa arrived, Ship Bottom felt a lot like the North Pole before the big guy and his reindeer leave for their annual trip around the world.

— Gina G. Scala

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