Even with temperatures in the 40s, a cloudy sky and a Baltimore Ravens football game at the same time, the crowds at this year's Christmas parade in downtown Bel Air were larger than the previous years, when the weather conditions were more like fall than winter.
Mike Blum, the lead organizer of the Main Street parade and the subsequent festivities in Shamrock Park Sunday, estimated there were 5,000 to 6,000 spectators, more than attended last year, when the parade had its largest attendance ever.
This year was Bel Air's 27th annual Christmas parade.
"This is the way that it is," Blum said of the attendance. "This is the crowds that we get, and it is our responsibility to put on an event that is worthy of the size of the crowd that we get."
Urgent care clinic operator Patient First was the primary sponsor of the parade, which was put on by the Town of Bel Air, the Bel Air town commissioners, the town's Department of Economic Development and the Bel Air Downtown Alliance.
Tracy Hart, co-host of the Rouse & Co. morning show on Q1370-AM, was the parade emcee.
Before the parade, people packed the sidewalks along the route from Main Street to Lee Street at a level that resembled the size of the crowds that cover the downtown sidewalks during Bel Air's annual Independence Day parade, one of the largest such parades in Harford County.
Unlike Independence Day, spectators were bundled up against the cold, although they were still happy to see marching bands from Bel Air High School, the John Carroll School, C. Milton Wright High School, Patterson Mill High School, Edgewood High School, Joppatowne High School and Fallston High School, as well as multiple Cub Scout and Girl Scout troops carrying banners for local businesses or with their own Christmas-themed floats and costumes.
Most of the Scouts did festive Christmas-themed costumes, but the members of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland's Service Unit 678 took a ghoulish turn with costumes and makeup based on the film "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
Additional visual treats included Christmas and nativity-themed floats from local churches, baton twirlers, dancers, jump ropers, acrobats and stilt walkers, soldiers marching and riding in military vehicles, a Society of Italian-American Businessmen float complete with a machine putting out fake snow and animal favorites such as miniature horses and Bernese Mountain dogs.
Santa and Mrs. Claus waved to the crowd from a horse-drawn carriage.
Hart urged children in the crowd to be good because Santa is "still watching."
The parade ended after about 45 minutes, and then spectators headed to Shamrock Park for cookies, hot chocolate, live music and a roaring bonfire, plus the annual lighting of the town's Christmas tree.
"Hug your family, thank a vet for his or her service and give to your favorite charity," Hart told the crowd. "Have a merry Christmas and a happy holiday season!"
Francesca Maragkou and her boyfriend, Alex Carela, both of Bel Air South, did not see most of the parade as they had been taking part in a living nativity at St. Mary's Church in Joppa. They were on hand for the celebration at Shamrock Park, though.
"It's very nice," Maragkou said. "It's good for families and kids."
James and Kelly Rock, of Fallston, attended the parade and festivities at the park with their 6-year-old daughter, Alana.
James Rock said they came "just to see the festivities and get in the spirit of the season."
Alana, who is a Girl Scout, said she enjoyed seeing the other Girl Scout troops, the Bernese Mountain dogs and later playing tag with other children in the park.
"We didn't know they were going to be so many Girl Scouts," James Rock said. "Next year, we're going to have to get her troop in there."
Kelly Rock enjoyed seeing the dogs, too.
"I'd have to say the dogs," she said of her favorite part of the parade. "Any time when there's puppies involved, it's a good day."
The Rocks came with their friend Catherine McCullough, of Bel Air. She and James Rock teach at Middlesex Elementary School in Baltimore County.
McCullough brought her 3-year-old daughter, Victoria, who loved seeing the dogs and goats and wanted to pet the animals. They had recently visited a farm to get their Christmas tree, where children could pet farm animals.
"She got to pet the animals there, and she didn't understand why she couldn't pet them here [at the parade]," McCullough said.
Blum, the parade organizer, praised the many community organizations, businesses and town departments that support the parade, as well as the creativity shown by the young participants.
"I'm very encouraged for the future of our community and our country," he said.
Blum also praised the student members of the Bel Air High School National Honor Society, who served as parade marshals.
The students were "completely calm and in control" as they helped organize and direct the many parade participants.
"We've had good marshals before, but this bunch was the best," Blum said.