Ruston native Cathi Cox-Boniol remembers the Ruston Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade as long as she remembers anything.
And after a lifetime of memories watching and then being involved with it, Cox-Boniol will play a new role in it this year, serving as Grand Marshal.
This year’s parade will run from 6-7 p.m. Saturday and will start around the Louisiana Tech University athletics facilities before heading downtown.
Cox-Boniol said her first memories of watching the parade were sitting on her father’s shoulders in front of the gas station he owned and operated at the corner of Monroe Street and California Avenue when she was a child.
“My memories of it go back to when my parents thought I was old enough where it was safe to take us out to it,” Cox-Boniol said. “Because the crowds were always huge.
“There’s something really magical about the Christmas parade. I’m really excited it’s going to be at night because the lights, the music, and kids bundled up and excited — there’s just something special about it. Being a part of it, especially after growing up watching it, is just amazing.”
While joining her husband Tom as Grand Marshals for this year’s parade is something new, Cox-Boniol is a longtime veteran of participating in one of Ruston’s favorite annual holiday events.
“When it became even more fun for me was when I started being in the parade,” she said. “I loved being in the Christmas parade. I always have. I rode as a Girl Scout, as a cheerleader. In fact, as a cheerleader I marched in the parade in front of the Grambling band one year, which is one of the most spectacular memories I have, because anybody that knows the Grambling band knows that it’s the outer limits of fantastic. And to be marching in front of that, kind of marching along with it, was purely amazing.
“You don’t see much marching in the parade anymore, which makes those memories probably even more special. People were going nuts, and being there by default, the cheerleaders just happened to be placed there that year, the people were going nuts at us, too. I had such a bounce in my step being in front of that band.”
Cox-Boniol continued participating for years, with church groups and even driving a radio station van in it while she was a young DJ broadcasting through the airwaves.
“We don’t have Mardi Gras here. This is the closest thing we could get to that,” she said. “Everybody in Ruston turned out for it. The floats were so elaborate. That was the era where everybody did all the tissue-paper decorations. It was so elaborate back then.
“Driving the van blaring Christmas music was a whole other dynamic. I’ve seen other parades where people rush the vans, which is really kind of scary. But that’s just another strand in my web of wonderful Christmas memories. I remember as a teacher taking my students to participate in the parade. I think I’ve kind of hit it from all angles, except riding a horse, which I’m not going to do.”
But that doesn’t mean Cox-Boniol has anything against equines, especially during Christmastime.
“Tom and I are going to be at the front of this year’s parade in a horse and buggy, which is amazing because the police chief (Steve Rogers) hasn’t allowed animals in, but he’s making an allowance this year, so we’re really excited about it,” she said.
Cox-Boniol’s early Christmas memories also include being part of the old Temple Baptist Church “Singing Christmas Tree.”
“I would climb to the top because it didn’t scare me,” she said. “That was another big Christmas deal in Ruston way back when. It snowed one year when we were up on it. One year my foot fell asleep and slipped out of my green Converse tennis shoe, which proceeded to fall the whole height of the tree into all of the supports under it. I remember a woman who was pregnant got sick and we had to unload a row to let her out. I remember so many things about that, too, like the parade.”
The 2021 Ruston Christmas parade theme will be “All Things Christmas!” to open up the celebrations for anyone and everyone after last year’s parade was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. The parade will begin by turning left on Alabama Avenue. It will then travel to Trenton Street and turn right, going through downtown, proceeding right onto Louisiana Avenue.
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