YOUNGSVILLE — The town's defiant Christmas parade began with whooping police sirens, and state Rep. Lisa Stone Barnes waving to the crowd from the back of a red convertible, wearing gloves but no mask.
Behind her, a float carried well-wishers from Wellspring Church, who covered their faces but tossed handfuls of candy to the children on the sidewalk.
A truck bearing a Trump flag blew its horn. Unmasked carolers strolled past, singing "Angels We Have Heard on High," and strumming a guitar. And for 22 minutes, roughly 500 people cheered.
"I'm taking the risk," said Lindsey Newton, a pre-K teacher who lives along the parade route, and who also wore a mask. "It's tradition. If I could go to every person and say 'Put your mask on,' I'd probably get hit in the face. All I can say is the Good Lord's in control."
Youngsville stood alone in the Triangle area and much of the state, declining to cancel its parade against strong urgings from the Franklin County Health Department.
Among the crowd, perhaps half the parade-watchers wore masks, and roughly that many followed safety precautions from the floats.
While some kept to tight family clusters and warned of invading bubble space, just as many did not.
As the parade rolled down N.C. 96 at 10:15 a.m., 16 out of 60 people wore masks while standing in the parking lot at Burnt Barrel craft beer and wine.
Mayor Fonzie Flowers waved to the crowd from the float carrying Santa Claus, and "Thank you!" came a cheer from the Burnt Barrel parking lot.
Signs posted along the route advocated masks and social distance. But while Flowers promised volunteers would gently enforce safety guidelines, no one discouraged the people who stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the street catching candy and toys.
While some feared the event would turn political and attract counter-demonstrators, it remained peaceful and festive. Only one Trump flag waved, and only one spectator wore a MAGA hat.
As the parade wound down at 10:37 a.m., a cowboy rode down the street on a tall black horse, stopping to perform tricks for the crowd. As he stood in the saddle, a spectator yelled, "Your horse is going to get COVID! He's not wearing a mask."
As he rode off, the crowd began to clear, walking side-by-side down the street strewn with broken candy canes.