Mayor's Christmas Parade is Hon-tastic

Holiday tradition draws thousands to neighborhoods

December 04, 2006|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

The weather outside was anything but frightful yesterday as Mayor Martin O'Malley wound his way through the Hampden and Medfield neighborhoods for the last time as the city's leader in the annual Mayor's Christmas Parade.

Beneath blue, cool skies, hip-swiveling Elvises, Hula Hoop swirling Hons, a waving Santa and Mrs. Claus and leather-and-tinsel swathed Harley-Davidson bikers strolled, rode and cruised the 2 1/2 -mile route along Falls Road and The Avenue, or 36th Street. Community associations and businesses in the two neighborhoods started the parade more than three decades ago.

For O'Malley, who became Maryland's governor-elect last month, the event marked a ride down memory lane.

"The Christmas parade has watched my kids grow up for seven years," O'Malley said. With him were his wife and two sons, who sat on the back of a red Chrysler Sebring convertible. "There's a lot of nostalgia."

Behind O'Malley, who elicited cheers from a number of watchers as he made his way down 36th Street, came City Council President Sheila Dixon. She said the parade has been a must-do event for her for about 20 years.

"It's a great way to kick off the Christmas holiday," Dixon said. "I just love participating." Dixon will become mayor when O'Malley takes office as governor.

Organizers estimated that about 25,000 people, bundled in coats and scarves, some sipping coffee and hot chocolate, watched the parade.

"It's probably the best crowd we ever had," said Tom Kerr, the parade chairman. Turnout might have been helped by the lack of competition from the Ravens, who had the day off.

In the crowd was Lynn Waldner, 32, of Ellicott City, who makes the Christmas spectacle a family affair every year. Waldner grew up in Hampden, and her mother still lives there. She said she has watched the parade practically every year of her life.

"Everyone comes back for this parade. It's like a Hampden reunion," Waldner said.

She stood with her husband, Eric, and 2-year-old daughter Mela on 36th Street between Roland and Chestnut avenues.

"What do you hear?" Eric Waldner asked Mela as he held her. The booming sound of music from a Latino dance group down the street was almost palpable. "Do you hear drums?"

Mela was silent until one colorful truck - and the man with the bright red wig riding on it - caught her attention.

"McDonald's," the otherwise quiet toddler said, to her parents' amusement.

A few yards away, Richard Arrington, 46, observed the passing floats and marching bands. He was dressed in a purple Ravens jacket and turtleneck - a nod to the team that had the day off.

For the first time in a few years, the parade didn't coincide with a Ravens game. Fans usually have had to split their attention between action on the street and on the football field.

"It gave a good opportunity for Ravens fans to catch a break," said Arrington, who recalled pressing his nose against a 36th Street barbershop window last year in an effort to catch on television the final moments of the game.

Some spectators standing or sitting in dense clusters along The Avenue said they probably would have been home, or at a bar, had their team been playing.

Instead, Lauraville resident Jay Travers, 51, found herself waiting for the next attraction after the calliope and Harley bikers sailed past. Travers, who rode in the parade once on her Harley, said her family decided to attend on the "spur of the moment."

Her granddaughter Charlotte Franchini, 10, bobbed her newly purchased inflatable penguin up and down as she leaned into the street, craning her neck.

"Here they come, here they come," she said to her family, as they watched a marching band advance.

For Joby Taylor, 39, and his wife Beth, their first Mayor's Christmas Parade perfectly fit the city: "quirky, but homey," Joby Taylor said. "You've got to love it."

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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