Easter Festival has become a struggling tradition
Formed more than 50 years ago at the request of city and Chamber of Commerce officials to spike a normally slow tourist period, official urgency for the St Augustine Easter Festival has waned.
By George Gardner
For Easter Festival Committee
St. Augustine’s annual Easter Festival 2014 opened with the transfer of the Royal Family and continues through April with the annual Knighting Ceremony, Blessing of the Fleet, signature parade – the Parada de Los Caballos y Carruajes, carriages drawn by horses wearing hats donated by famous women – and Menorcan Fromajardes Celebration and Royal Family Tea, wrapping up a traditional festival period struggling to stay alive in changing times.
The ceremonial events are kept alive by a dedicated corps of volunteers, dressed in full period regalia for the ceremonies – after begging for venues, sprucing up period clothes, running about to fill a refreshment table, setting up a sound system, and decorating.
Funding and volunteer shortages forced cancellation of the festivities in 2008 for the first time in more than half a century. “It’s the fabric of the community and all of those things together that make up the experience,” Tourist Development Council executive director Glenn Hastings wrote in an editorial announcing that the Easter Parade would be cancelled.
At that time, The Record editor wrote, “The Easter Festival Committee needs your help — if you have ever wanted to be in on the next generation of a very special St Augustine event, now is the time.”
Sylvia Cochran, a member of the Yahoo Contributor Network, listed the “Top 3 Easter Parades across the United States” as the Snohomish Easter Parade in Washington, French Quarter Easter Parade in New Orleans, and the St Augustine Easter Parade. “The traditional Easter Parade has all but slid into obscurity,” Cochran wrote. “Yet, while plenty of locales are scrapping old traditions, there are some venues that continue to honor the beloved opportunity …”
The 54-year-old Easter Sunday parade received a $7,000 grant from the Tourist Development Council for this year and a waiver from the city of some $6,000 in parade fees. But, the Easter Festival Committee is out of cash and can’t collect that grant except as reimbursement after it pays the bills.
The parade is the primary focus for fundraising for the Easter Festival and Royal Family activities throughout the year. The parade charges a modest entry fee and sells sponsorship of carriages, but Easter Festival Chair, Phil Genovar, a veteran member who’s seen decades of ups and downs for the annual spring festival says it is never enough to build a treasury for future years.
Genovar says the Festival Committee needs a budget of $10,000, sponsorship of the several traditional ceremonies at $300 each, and a major sponsor for the Parada de Los Caballos y Carruajes, of about $6,000 in order to keep the long-standing tradition alive.
If you would be able to contribute to this unique St. Augustine experience, contact Committee Treasurer Debora Webb by calling 904-829-2333. Contributions to the non-profit Easter Festival Committee can be mailed to St Augustine Easter Festival, P.O. Box 3631, St. Augustine, FL 32085-3631. Members Sally Walton (904-829-5859) or Michelle Reyna (904-669-1485) are available to answer questions for those interested in volunteering.