Gloomy, overcast skies and whispers about Columbia’s first winter snowfall couldn’t keep a crowd from gathering downtown Sunday afternoon to ring in the holiday season.
The city’s annual holiday parade, organized this year by the Columbia Jaycees, brought spectators of all ages downtown to watch dozens of floats cruise down Broadway from College Avenue to Fourth Street.
The theme of this year’s parade was “Holidays Around the World.” Morningside Community School’s float, which featured Chinese hanging lanterns and a dragon, won the Jaycees’ $75 first-place parade participant award.
Girl Scout Troop 135 took second place for its Santa’s elves’ costumes.
This year’s grand marshal, Pieter Van Waarde, senior pastor at Woodcrest Chapel, said he suspects his lineage had something to do with being selected as the parade’s leader.
“I was born in Holland,” he said, “so I have Dutch connections.”
Thirty minutes before the parade’s 3 p.m. start spectators began lining up along Broadway. The piercing 27 degree wind chill caused many to huddle together in storefronts, while a few watched safely from inside their cars.
Police and fire-engine sirens marked the beginning of the parade, and sounds of marching bands and Christmas music soon filled the air. As several floats began throwing free candy at the crowd, spectators rushed to the curb.
On the corner of Tenth and Broadway, parade watchers enjoyed some relief from the cold as Bethel Church volunteers handed out free cups of hot chocolate.
“We don’t have a float,” said Beth Nixon, a church volunteer, “(but) we like to get out in the community every month.”
Kathy Ricciotti, who’s attended the parade for the past seven years, was prepared for the chilly weather.
“We brought chairs, cocoa and blankies,” she said. She said her daughter, Krista, came to see Santa.
Santa and Mrs. Claus appeared on the last float, which resembled a house. From their perch inside the house’s chimney, the couple waved and threw candy at the crowd.
The parade was sponsored by the Columbia Jaycees, the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, the Columbia Channel and the District (Downtown Columbia Associations).