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Shanghai Parade

The Shanghai Parade, held each New Year’s Day on Washington Street in Lewisburg, is a community celebration of uncertain origins. Originally a costume parade emphasizing the frightful, in modern times Shanghai has incorporated floats, music, horseback riders, antique cars, farm equipment, and other elements of conventional parades. Participation and attendance vary with the weather, with some years seeing several dozen entries and hundreds of spectators.

Once featuring revelers in scary disguise who went about with both candy and switches, Shanghai resembles other midwinter rituals, including mummers plays and parades, Mardi Gras, and the West Virginia traditions of belsnickling and Fasnacht. Apparently limited to Lewisburg at present, the Shanghai custom was once practiced in other places in the region, including Pendleton County. A Pocahontas County fiddle tune named ‘‘Shanghai’’ may be associated with the tradition. Some older residents of this part of the state recall that ‘‘shanghying’’ once went on for days, usually in the week before and the week after Christmas.

Scholar H. B. Graybill, who researched the Lewisburg Shanghai Parade in the 1930s, believed that it began in the late 19th century, though others think the popular celebration goes back further. While organized by committee nowadays, Shanghai was largely by consensus and informal invitation in times past. A 1930s Greenbrier County newspaper offered the following call to revelry: ‘‘Let millionaire and pauper meet And go marching down the street. The lid is off, fun is rife Let’s have the best time of your life.’’