BY COLLEEN DeGUZMAN | STAFF WRITER
McALLEN — A winter wonderland glistened over the Veterans Memorial Stadium Saturday night, and it was 83 degrees.
Children were fascinated by the artificial snow that floated around, catching the soap bubbles in their hair and shoulders as evidence to their parents that they were playing with the machine.
Nine-year-old Rebeka Perez has attended the McAllen Holiday Parade for as long as she can remember, and says that the snow is her favorite part every year.
“It’s just so pretty how it gets everywhere in the air,” Perez said. “I also like the dragon float, the one with the smoke coming out of its nose. I am just really happy to be here tonight.”
Celebrating its fifth year, the parade carried the theme of “Christmas Around the World.” The event featured 55 illuminated floats, 39 inflatable character balloons and a celebrity lineup, including Anthony Gonzalez, voice of Miguel from the animated film, “Coco,” Telemundo stars, Carmen Aub and Ivan Arana, and for the third year in a row, former and current Dallas Cowboy players, Jaylon and Rod Smith, Tony Hill and Jay Novacek, Rowdy the mascot and cheerleaders.
Floats trekked a one-and-a-half-mile-long route along Bicentennial Boulevard, ending at U.S. Business 83. But before taking off at 6 p.m. from the stadium, the audience enjoyed a show including festive songs from the Valley Symphony Orchestra, a dance number from the Nikki Rowe Razz Ma Tazz choir, and a performance from actor and musician Gonzalez, singing the songs “Remember Me” and “Un Poco Loco.”
It is Gonzalez’s first time visiting South Texas and he says that being in an area concentrated with Hispanic culture is exciting.
“I am so happy and honored to be here, at a place that honors and respects Hispanic culture and celebrates the Day of the Dead,” said Gonzalez, 14. “I have never been here, but I am happy to be in McAllen, Texas. They told me I was coming to a ‘little Mexico’ and I am really getting that vibe now, and it feels super good.”
Following the theme of the night, floats included recognizable monuments from around the world, inviting a variety of cultures into McAllen’s holiday spectacular. Mayor Jim Darling waved alongside an enlarged shimmering gold chinese dragon, reindeer were sliding off of a snowy Eiffel Tower, and commissioner of district 2, Joaquin “J.J” Zamora stood alongside his family on a float with three colorful hot air balloons — a nod at the novel, “Around the World in Eighty Days” by French writer Jules Verne.
Zamora said that he wanted his float to portray McAllen’s openness to all cultures and of different traditions during this time of year.
“We live in a country with different nationalities and ethnicities,” said Zamora. “Christmas and this holiday season can be celebrated in so many different ways. With McAllen being an international city, we certainly wanted to accentuate that, and that diversity is our strength.”
Other holiday-themed floats included a gigantic purple octopus handing out presents, the Great Sphinx of Giza with red holiday bows at its hands, and a huge glimmering orange, representing the Texas Citrus Fiesta.
Poised on the Texas Citrus Fiesta float were five princesses, each representing different kinds of citrus fruit. Emma Lozano, 7, princess of lime blossoms, says that she loves seeing the crowds waving back at her.
“It feels awesome to be a princess,” Lozano said. “I see a lot of smiles and waves, and it makes me feel happy to be a part of it.”
This was Megan Molinaro’s second year attending the parade, but instead of watching the floats pass with her her daughter, Braiden Holliman by her side, she watched Braiden perform with the Perez Elementary choir group.
Molinaro says that the annual parade contributes to her pride for the Valley.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Molinato, who’s daughter is in fifth grade. “It is such a sweet opportunity for the students to sing, those who are brave and bold enough to do so. I like to call the city of McAllen a ‘little big town’, meaning that we have a lot of big things in our little town, one being this parade.
Guests were welcome to enjoy Christmas at the Park held at the McAllen Municipal Park before and during the parade, and a group from Capable Kids, a nonprofit organization that works with children with disabilities in the community, had the opportunity to meet with the celebrity line-up that morning.
At 11:30 a.m., at the McAllen Convention Center, Nathanial Salas, 9, was one of the children in the crowd, eager to meet the stars.
He was specifically anticipating meeting Tony Hill, Dallas Cowboys former wide receiver.
“Tony Hill has a super bowl ring, and I have only seen that on T.V.,” said Salas, who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at two weeks old. “The really coolest part is being able to see all the players and getting their autographs. I never wished for all this to happen, but it magically just happened. Seeing it makes me feel like we can win the Super Bowl, no matter what stops us.”