For some folks in Virginia, it seems, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without the Confederate battle flag and guns. That sentiment was on display in Roanoke recently, as a local business district improvement organization allowed armed members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to march with flags in its annual downtown holiday parade.

Despite complaints from the Roanoke NAACP ahead of the parade last week, Downtown Roanoke Inc. (DRI) supported the Confederate group’s First Amendment right to participate, the Roanoke Times reported. But what would have been just a dozen flag bearers walking alongside a float designed by Sons of Confederate Veterans 28th Infantry Camp 49, grew to as many as 50 unapproved people carrying Confederate flags and firearms – a response to the civil rights group’s objections, the organizers claimed.

DRI is now considering whether the Sons of Confederate Veterans should ever be allowed to enter the parade again, because unsanctioned marchers constituted a violation of the parade contract, according to the Roanoke Times. Tony Pearman, DRI chairman, criticized the NAACP and the Confederate flag supporters for ruining the otherwise festive event.

“It shocks and saddens me that these issues resulted in individuals on both sides of the debate resorting to the use of a Christmas parade as a venue to further their cause, not celebrate the season,” he said. Neither the NAACP nor the Confederate group agreed that they hijacked the parade.

Controversy over Confederate symbols had grown into a national discussion, in the wake of last summer’s hate-motivated mass shooting at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old professed white supremacists who idolized Confederate symbols, was indicted on murder and hate crime offenses of nine black parishioners at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Several states, including South Carolina, which agreed to lower the Confederate banner after the shooting, have considered removing their flags, monuments and other slavery-era emblems. New Orleans voted Wednesday to remove four monuments that honor Confederate generals and veterans.

Although the Confederate flag is widely seen as a symbol of racial hatred of blacks among whites in the South and in the North, parade participants in Roanoke had distanced themselves from groups like the Ku Klux Klan, according to the Roanoke Times. But the NAACP leaders didn’t buy it and mounted the protest anyway.