The spectacle was grand: marching bands in colorful uniforms with their banging cymbals and drums; Boumi Temple members in gold curl-toed shoes, green capes and blue genie pants, riding motorized magic carpets; horses with furry antlers and red noses. . . .
"Hey look, it's the red reindeer," said Timothy Longo, 7, pointing atthe horses as they walked by him on Falls Road.
Timothy and his family had come to Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood from Harford County for the 22nd annual Mayor's Christmas Parade -- two hours of pageantry and a bit of zaniness -- that included not just horses thinly disguised as reindeer, but Baltimore's Best Hon among the stars.
Stella Gambino, voted Baltimore's Best Hon by Hampden's Cafe Hon, rode in a silver convertible, her beehive hairdo decorated with a bright red poinsettia.
The procession fell into formation at the Poly-Western high school complex and headed south on Falls Road through the heart of the community -- with the likes of Ms. Gambino and friends, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke; Mrs. Maryland, Sybil Higgins; and members of the Baltimore Colts Marching Band and Un-Colts cheerleaders all waving to the crowds.
Along the 2 1/2 -mile route, parents stood with children in strollers at curbside, families sprawled out on blankets in front yards, and others watched from windows and doorsteps.
Jewel Breckenridge, 3, got a better seat -- on her father's shoulder. "I just turned her around this way so my neck is feeling better," said Joe Breckenridge, 36, who came from Woodlawn to watch the parade for the first time.
Along the commercial strip on 36th Street, spectators stood three deep, and vendors sold Italian sausages and hot dogs as judges watched on a platform to rank performances of such groups as drill teams and marching bands and award 28 trophies.
The parade had been planned since March, with more than 50 Hampden-area volunteers taking part. They raised $16,000 to pay for bands and the city fees for such services as police and sanitation, according to Barbara Glassmyer, a parade marshal.
Tom Kerr, 51, might be called Hampden's Mr. Parade. The city government purchasing employee has headed the annual parade since its beginning, and unabashedly calls it Baltimore's biggest.
Whether it is the biggest may be a matter of debate, but it was clearly a success. "All the kids are happy, and it brings the community together," Mr. Kerr said. "It's just tradition."
Parking spaces were scarce in the blocks surrounding the parade route, and traffic delays annoyed some drivers. But otherwise, the parade seemed to go off without a hitch, police said.
"Just a lot of mad motorists," said Sgt. James Boyd, of the Northern District, who halted traffic on Cold Spring Lane to let unicyclists, clowns and antique cars pass.