The coronavirus pandemic forced many to cancel their birthday celebrations over the past year, including the town of Hatfield, which was set to celebrate its 350th year last spring.
Organizers in the small town of 3,300 people just west of the Connecticut River near Amherst changed their plans and made many of the events virtual, but the parade through town had to be put on hold.
Residents were finally able to celebrate Sunday, as the town combined its Memorial Day celebrations with the 350th anniversary in a parade that stretched 7 miles through town, according to organizers.
Rain clouds covered the area, but the showers mostly held off during the parade, organizers said. And it was a good thing because the celebration couldn’t wait any longer.
“Today is the last day that Hatfield is 350 years old,” Robert Betsold, a spokesman for the Hatfield 350th Anniversary Steering Committee, said in an interview Sunday. “Tomorrow we turn 351.”
The end of the town’s anniversary year also means the giant birthday cake that has been sitting near Town Hall for more than a year will be broken down and moved.
The cake, initially built for the city of Westfield and its 350th-anniversary celebration two years ago, has been in Hatfield since September 2019. Betsold said it is next heading the town of Whately for its 250th celebration later this year.
“We’ve been kind of moving this around the valley,” said Betsold, adding that the cake weighs about 1 ton and is 16 feet tall and 26 feet across. The cake is illuminated with 350 lightbulbs serving as candles.
Betsold said it was important for the anniversary celebration to not overshadow Memorial Day. The town’s oldest veterans rode in a car leading the procession and were followed by other local veterans from American Legion Post 344, and flags hung over the streets along the parade route.
The parade was initially scheduled for June 13 last year, but with the onset of the pandemic and strict regulations on large gatherings, the committee moved it to Sunday, with the hope that the virus would be under control by now.
The fact that the parade date fell on the day after restrictions were lifted across the state was a welcome coincidence, Betsold said.
“I think a lot of people were looking for something, that light at the end of the tunnel, and this was it for a lot of us in town,” he said.
The parade was organized with COVID-19 regulations in mind. The route was initially 1.5 miles through town, but organizers redrew it to stretch 7 miles and split the participants into sections, with each section beginning at the same time to avoid a crowd at the parade’s start.
But even as restrictions were lifted, organizers decided to go on with the parade as planned.
Instead of walking through the streets, the parade went mobile, with marching bands performing on trailers and other participants riding in antique cars and old fire trucks along the route, waving to the crowds that came out to watch.
“Even though the weather did not fully cooperate, we waited until [Saturday] to decide, and the logistics were in place to go ahead,” said Laurie Banas, co-chair of the committee. “Hatfield is a close-knit community, and boy did they show up today.”