Parade kicks off holiday season

Santa followed the footsteps of bands, jugglers and Elvises


Steppers shimmied, drummers banged, Elvis winked, Santa waved and tradition was happily upheld.

Baltimore's 54th annual Thanksgiving parade marched, floated and danced along Pratt Street yesterday under blue skies. Thousands of spectators - first-timers and old-timers, babies and grandmas - lined up to ooh and ahh and usher in the holiday season with a proper sprinkling of nostalgia, good cheer and city boosterism.

"I love the way Baltimore celebrates the beginning of Thanksgiving," said Carolyn Andrews, 59. "I love the parade!" Her 4-year-old grandson, Charles McKee, was covered in the unmistakable signs of a good day: hot chocolate dribbles and sugary traces of cotton candy on his lips.

"How can you beat this beautiful day?" she said.

At 11 a.m. sharp, the mounted police and motorcycle unit kicked off the city-produced Best Buy Thanksgiving Parade. They were followed by former Orioles coach and Honorary Grand Marshal Elrod Hendricks; Miss Teen Maryland USA; Mexico Vivo ballet; jingle bell, star and Christmas ornament balloons; several cars of Elvises; clowns; jugglers; drill teams; cheerleaders; twirlers; steppers; and eight booming marching bands.

Children waved from firetrucks. A cluster of miniature ponies and donkeys clip-clopped along. It smelled like hot dogs and autumn.

"I like the drums and dancers," said Shirley Booth, 50, of Baltimore, as the Western Wolverine Marching Band tooted by, playing "Eye of the Tiger." A brigade of girls shaking silver hoops filed past, followed by the rest of the band. The horns blasted; a line of tubas bounced left and right in unison.

"It's so positive for the city, for the young people," Booth said. "It takes a lot of discipline to do that."

A little farther along, Shatiera Stith, 16, of Baltimore watched as Girl Scouts dressed as Thin Mint cookies and then the Edmondson Village Steppers passed.

"They are working it!" Stith said. Hands were flying up and down; batons were soaring. A corps of about 20 drummers thumped away so enthusiastically that the closest spectators could feel the thrumming in their chests.

"I'm impressed with these guys. This is something I always wanted to do," said Aaron Peck, 30, of Towson, who had his 6-month-old son strapped to his chest. "I live vicariously now."

His favorite entrant had been from the American Red Cross, he said, "because they've been busy this year."

Santa came last, smiling behind a fleet of Volkswagen Beetles festooned with gold trim and antlers. Little kids, who had been waiting for the big guy all day - not always patiently - burst into applause and waved mitten-covered hands.

Then, Santa was whisked off to his hut on the harbor. Hats and sequined sashes came off. Band members filed onto school buses, and the blockades came down.

As the crowd dispersed, a panel of judges added up points to pick the winning marching bands. Stephen Decatur High School in Berlin took first place, followed by Dulaney High School and North County High School in Glen Burnie.

Laurel Peyrot, 24, a stiltwalker, teetered down the emptying streets, still wearing her stilts and a black hat with a sprig of holly in it. A little kid stared up at her wordlessly, eyes round.

"I had a great time," Peyrot said from her perch. "I even fell down and everyone rushed to pick me up. We're a great city!"

As she strode off to find her car, she added that a day dancing and waving from atop her stilts had sent her into a bright holiday mood. "Definitely!" she said. "Thanksgiving, Christmas. Bring it on!"

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