The annual Bel Air Christmas parade brought the holiday season to Main Street on Sunday, and featured marching bands, floats and an appearance by Santa Claus. (Matt Button/Aegis video)

Thousands of Bel Air and Harford County area residents filed into downtown Bel Air setting up lawn chairs and blankets in anticipation for the 24th annual Bel Air Christmas Parade to spark the beginning of the holiday season.

Days before the parade, workers placed garland and red Christmas bows on light poles and strung holiday lights around town.

Girls from Bel Air High School set up a stand in front of the Bel Air Reckord Armory an hour before the parade. The students, who were members for various clubs, including the National Honor Society and H.O.P.E., sold homemade baked sweets to raise funds for the Festival of Trees, put on by the Chesapeake Cancer Alliance.

One volunteer, Carolyn Ayoub, 15, a sophomore, said she is a parade newbie and decided this year would be a great opportunity to watch the fun and give back to her community.


Sign up to receive our free daily email newsletter: Bel Air Today

"I like helping people and volunteering," Ayoub said as she tried to keep warm. "I think it is interesting and I get to meet new people. Helping people, especially those in Bel Air, is important to me."

Ayoub said she is most excited to see her high school marching band in the parade.

"They have some new capes. I'm really excited," Ayoub said.

Some people watched the parade away from the cold inside local businesses on Main Street like Towns Nails and Spa and The Orient Chinese Cuisine and Sushi Bar. Others were excited to be up-close near the action, especially those who wanted to see a special bearded man in the parade.

Waving their stuffed Christmas toys, which their moms purchased from a local vendor, Nicholas Debraccio, 9, and his brother Alex, 7, and friends Denny Rosier, 7, and Dylan Rosier, 3, all screamed they were waiting for Santa Claus in the parade.

"We're waiting for Santa," said Nicholas. "I already made my Christmas list."

The parade started promptly at 3:30 p.m. headed by the Bel Air town commissioners and their families.

Marching bands from Bel Air High School, Joppatowne High School, John Carroll School, Patterson Mill High School and C. Milton Wright High School stepped down Main Street playing Christmas favorites like "Jingle Bells."

Parade-goers cheered when The Oriole Bird ran down the street giving children high fives.

Other costume mascots such as McGruff the Crime Dog and Frosty the Snowman also made their way down Main Street.

Local Beauty queens and performers from the Silver Eagle Cloggers and the TwirlTasTix, who twirl fiery batons, also entertained the crowd.

Old friends Susan Hale, 50, and Gerri Mitchell, 45, both of Bel Air, said they come to the Christmas parade annually because its a tradition.

"It's a part of the Bel Air tradition," Hale said. "It brings families together and the community for an afternoon. And it's free."

Mitchell said she remembers being in the annual Christmas parade in the 1970s as a baton girl for a community group.

"It's so much fun seeing everyone out together celebrating Christmas," Mitchell said. "It really sets the mood for the holidays."

After the parade residents followed along behind Old St. Nick to Shamrock Park for a bonfire and majestic Christmas tree and Menorah lighting ceremonies.

The Bel Air Community Band played while residents warmed up at the fire and drinking free hot chocolate, provided by Coffee Coffee, a local gourmet coffee, tea and gift shop.

Kids jumped up and down as the town counted down to the tree lightening. Little faces lit up as the tree's lights clicked on to signal the official beginning of the holiday season in Bel Air.