McALLEN — In a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, this city put on Santa’s stocking cap and remained festive Saturday by making the most of the season with its annual McAllen Holiday Parade.

Creative float ready to move on down the line during the McAllen Parade at the McAllen Convention Center on Saturday ,Dec.5,2020 . Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | [email protected]

This year’s event was held virtually from the McAllen Convention Center District as the public watched the procession online.

In a normal scenario, the parade would start at Veterans Memorial Stadium before making its way down Bicentennial Boulevard to over 200,000 spectators. This year’s procession made its way around Oval Park with zero spectators.

That did little to hinder the city from going all out to put on a spectacular parade.

“They haven’t spared anything,” Mayor Jim Darling said prior to boarding his float. “The floats are fantastic. The balloons are here. The bands are here. I think people will enjoy it on TV, and it’s safe. That’s the most important thing. We didn’t want to stop it. Everyone was kind of COVID-fatigued. This was a symbol to the people that we’re still here. We still have the Christmas spirit.”

This year’s parade featured roughly 60 floats and balloons, and marching bands from the local high schools. In comparison, last year’s parade had more than 50 floats and nearly 40 large balloons, as well as bands from the surrounding communities.

Despite the smaller scale of the festivities, Darling said the aim was to inspire hope in the community.

“That’s what it’s all about,” the mayor said. “There’s two messages here: We’re going to get through it. It’s the holiday season. Let’s enjoy our families. The second message is: Let’s do it safely. To me, both are very, very important.”

The parade featured celebrity hosts Mario Lopez, Julian Gil and Lorena Abreu, as well as appearances by Dallas Cowboys legends Drew Pearson, Tony Hill and Ed “Too Tall” Jones. The parade was kicked off with a performance by Maria D’Luz and dancers from Melba’s School of Dance, as well as an elaborate fireworks display.

“It was on every level in terms of a scaled-down version of our annual McAllen Holiday Parade,” McAllen spokeswoman Xochitl Mora said. “It was no less spectacular or losing quality. Obviously that was important to us that we deliver that same amazing presentation that shows that while we didn’t have any spectators other than the folks behind the scenes making the parade possible, we wanted everyone at home to feel as if it still had the same magic and dazzle of every previous McAllen Holiday Parade.”

Felex Villarreal,7, of Edinburg gets ready to watch the McAllen Parade at the McAllen Convention Center on Saturday ,Dec.5,2020 . Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | [email protected]

Leading the parade were members of the McAllen Police Department motorcycle officers and the department’s honor guard.

Sgt. Gaston Balli, who has served as commander in the honor guard for 10 years, said that this year’s parade was bittersweet considering all that the city and the surrounding communities have had to endure in this unpredictable year.

“Right now, when we march down with the colors, that’s for our country, for our state, for our city, and all our law enforcement officers,” Balli said. “It’s all about community involvement and helping our community. Here in the city of McAllen, the community has been very supportive even before our tragedy that happened this summer.”

He described the city’s decision to go ahead with the annual parade as a show of strength for the community that has endured a pandemic and and the tragic loss of two fellow officers in the line of duty.

“It’s uniting everybody,” Balli said. “We’re all together in this.”