One of the things for which the quaint yet sophisticated village of Middleburg, Virginia, is best known happens on the first Saturday of December. Since 1979, most of the town (pop. 800) and some 10,000 guests from across the country gather for the annual Christmas parade.
“It’s a real, traditional family Christmas parade,” said Jim Herbert proudly, in a recent interview at Julien’s Cafe and Market, a French bistro in the heart of Middleburg. A
lifelong resident, Herbert has been the parade’s organizer for some 10 years. He has seen it double in size from about 40 components to more than 80. What used to be over in 45
minutes now lasts well over an hour.
Setting the tone, at 11 a.m., the horses and hounds of the Middleburg Hunt Club pass
along Washington Street in full Hunt Review regalia. Riders come from across the country
to participate. The Christmas Parade begins at 2 p.m., with hundreds of horses, including Tennessee Walking Horses and Standardbreds, ridden by their owners, members of various
Middleburg clubs. In addition to polo clubs old and new — increasingly of both sexes and
intergenerational — the equestrian portion of the parade features the Middleburg Charro
Club of Mexican caballeros.
There are also more than a few llamas and alpacas, among other farm animals. But
outnumbering them all are the dogs. “Hundreds of dogs march in the Christmas parade, often decked out with woolen doggy coats, ribbons and other décor representing their various breed affinity groups,” Herbert explained. There are packs of greyhounds, beagles, hunting dogs and even Appalachian Great Pyrenees rescue dogs. And there are the Corgis, by far the biggest breed in the parade. “They are known locally as the Corgi Corps,” said Herbert with a laugh. Long-serving Mayor Betsy Davis, who owns Middleburg’s largest store, the Fun Shop, has a Corgi, one soon learns.
Of course, humans parade as well: civic leaders, farmers, winemakers, Harley motorcycle riders, former Washington Redskins players and cheerleaders, scouts, firefighters and members of other law enforcement and rescue agencies. And there are floats, many associated with local lore. One of the traditional participants, the Middleburg Tennis Club, was barred from having a float for several years after choosing a theme touching on politics, which is strictly forbidden. (The float that year apparently had something to do with a blue dress. According to sources, the club redeemed itself when its women players won the USTA senior championships in Palm Springs, California.)
The parade always ends with Santa Claus atop an elegant carriage, pulled by a spectacular team of five Ayrshire grays in an unusual “pickaxe” rig: three across the front and two behind.
But that is not the end of the festivities. In fact, the parade, on Saturday, Dec. 2, is just the middle of Christmas in Middleburg weekend. The activities start on Friday night with a
tree lighting ceremony in the center of town, followed by a Christmas concert at nearby
Salamander Resort and Spa. Saturday morning begins at 8:30 a.m. with a traditional pancake breakfast. Hot chocolate and locally made cider are available all day downtown. After the parade, there is an ongoing progressive tasting at the growing number of Middleburg wineries and wine outlets, as well as shopping and snacking at the numerous shops, cafes and restaurants.
Special events also take place at the National Sporting Library & Museum (currently hosting
the major exhibition “The Horse in Ancient Greek Art”), the Middleburg Community Center and other venues all weekend.