Santa Claus' elves, his reindeer, his lovely wife and a flatbed truck's worth of Misfit Toys gathered under the Angelo N. D'Anna memorial pavilion in Dundalk yesterday to launch the holiday season in a neighborhood known more for steel workers than St. Nicholas.
"If Macy's can have a parade, we can have a parade," said Bruce Mills, a native of nearby Logan Village and president of Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council, which sponsored the event.
Macy's couldn't have ordered the gorgeous day that graced the parade at Heritage Park, as a high of 68 degrees breezed through the Baltimore metropolitan area.
The late-afternoon parade -- which was highlighted at dusk by the release of 30 doves as lights draped around evergreens were turned on -- wound through the streets of old Dundalk near St. Rita Roman Catholic Church.
Afterward, one by one, more than 500 kids sat on Santa Claus' lap and received small gifts.
Along the parade route, the crowd was treated to several generations of dancers, not quite "one to 92," but close; punk-metal renditions of holiday classics by a band; and 38-year-old Chris Ryan pretending to be Burl Ives pretending to be a snowman.
"I was hoping to be the Bumble," said Ryan of the parade's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" television show theme.
Marcee Zakwieia, 38, a hometown girl who teaches first grade at Grange Elementary School, put the show together with scores of other volunteers devoted to the working-class community in southeastern Baltimore County.
Inspired by memories of Dundalk house-decorating contests during the Christmases of her youth -- "My mom won one year," she said -- Zakwieia began selecting songs and working on dance routines last summer on the beach in Ocean City.
"It started with children I taught and their parents," said Zakwieia. "Why just light a tree when you can get kids and their parents to dance?"
Her sister, Monica Zakwieia, 48, took a week off from work to sew nearly 100 costumes. Her cousin, Carla Crisp, organized the music through the nonprofit group she started to find safe venues for kids to play and hear music.
"Dundalk is the best-kept secret there is," said Marcee Zakwieia. "The TV reporters will go to Towson every Christmas just to see somebody throw a switch at a mall, but they won't come down here for parents and kids who have practiced for six weeks. I wouldn't trade living here for anything in the world."
Jimmy Miller, the Zakwieias' 66-year-old uncle, sat in for Santa.
"I haven't played Santa since 1957," said Miller, somewhat trim for the role. Asked to name the key quality required for portraying the legendary Claus, Miller replied: "Just be nice."
Naughty is a hallmark of rock and roll, but nice is what Crisp and young musicians representing the groups TbR, 20th Century Styles and Compulsive Behavior brought to the event yesterday.
The founder of Project Millennium, which provides a regular stage for young bands at St. Timothy's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Dundalk and other alcohol-free venues, Crisp grew up in Dundalk in the 1960s.
She started the "Underground" concerts as outlets for the musical talents of her sons Andrew and Matthew and has continued the work for other children. The project will celebrate its fifth anniversary Friday with a Christmas ball at the Community College of Baltimore County's Dundalk campus.
"I remember what is was like to be a young person; it was confusing," said Crisp, as three rows of youths warmed up for the parade's dance routines. "All young people go through confusing times but the important thing is for them to find positive mentors outside of the family, to help them."
As the parade rolled out, her point was evident in what has become a mainstay of the Dundalk holiday season.