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Families enjoy early Christmas cheer at Bel Air parade and tree lighting Sunday

Crowds turn out Sunday for the 28th annual Bel Air Christmas parade and tree lighting ceremony.

Bel Air residents Joe and Mary Lynn Bezek faced a busy day Sunday, with lots of Christmas decorating still to be done, but they decided to spend their afternoon downtown, taking in the 28th annual Bel Air Christmas Parade & Tree Lighting Celebration.

“We always wanted to do that, and we thought, let's try to appreciate what our town offers,” Mary Lynn Bezek said.

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She and her husband were near the town’s Christmas tree, a metal pole on which strings of multi-colored lights hung, in Shamrock Park. Families were in the park for the tree-lighting ceremony, drinking hot chocolate, warming themselves by a bonfire and taking photos in front of the tree.

“It's small town America — it's just fabulous,” Joe Bezek said. “You see all these families out here, and if you weren’t in the holiday spirit before you are now.”

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Mary Lynn said she and her husband might return next year “and make this part of our [holiday] tradition.”

Visitors in the park were also treated to live Christmas music and remarks from Harford County Councilman James McMahan, who represents Bel Air and the surrounding area, and Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor, senior commander of Aberdeen Proving Ground.

McMahan and Taylor recognized the veterans in the crowd, as well as active-duty military who are deployed during the holidays.

Having all service members home for Christmas “would be, I guess, the best Christmas present of all,” McMahan said.

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McMahan also encouraged those present to “pray for peace.”

“You’ve been such good neighbors and hosts, thanks for what you do, Army strong,” Taylor said on behalf of APG, Harford County’s largest employer.

The festivities in the park followed the annual downtown Christmas parade, which drew a crowd to Main Street that rivaled the large crowd that gathers for the town’s annual Independence Day parade. Spectators this time wore cold-weather clothing and Christmas-themed accessories, instead of red, white and blue.

Stephanie Brown, of Forest Hill, had wrapped herself in oversized Christmas tree lights. She has attended the Bel Air Christmas parade since her children were young, and the grandmother of 14 now attends with her grandchildren, children and their in-laws.

“We all come as a big group,” Brown said.

Brown spoke with The Aegis after the parade with in-law Kathleen White, of Bel Air. Brown’s daughter is married to White’s son.

“It's so much fun, and it's so nice for the kids,” White said.

Brown called the Bel Air parade “a nice hometown parade.”

“You see everybody you know, all your friends and neighbors, everybody’s here,” she said.

White said the families “look forward to it every year.”

“Even people with Ravens tickets don't go to the Ravens game because they want to come here,” Brown added.

Radio host Tracy Hart, of WQLL-AM, was the mistress of ceremonies, announcing each parade entrant from the reviewing stand near the Harford County Courthouse.

“What would Christmas be without the real Grinch,” Hart said upon spotting a marcher dressed as the title character from the Dr. Seuss classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

“Let’s hope he doesn’t steal our Christmas,” Hart added.

There were 97 entrants, compared to 82 for the 2016 parade, according to parade manager Mike Blum.

Santa and Mrs. Claus, who rode in a horse-drawn carriage, were the stars of the day.

“Welcome to Bel Air,” Hart called out.

Other participants included elected officials, Cub Scout packs, Brownie troops, Girl and Boy Scout troops, students from the U.S. Taekwondo Academy in Bel Air, who marched and broke boards with kicks, local churches, businesses, community organizations, members of the military, police and military youth organizations, Fire Prevention ambassadors and high school marching bands.

The number of marching bands grew from seven to nine this year, with North Harford High School and Harford Technical High School making their first appearance this year, according to Blum.

He said North Harford and Harford Tech have new band directors.

“This was their [parade] debut, and I'm very pleased to have them,” Blum said.

He said the crowds and the parade were larger than past years, but people were “wonderful.”

Nigel Hambrook, a Bel Air resident and 2013 graduate of C. Milton Wright High School, enjoyed seeing his alma mater’s marching band.

“They were really good,” he said after the parade.

His mother, Lisa Shanahan, of Bel Air, said all of the bands were “really good.”

Mother and son made their first visit to the Bel Air parade.

“It was really fun; we’re definitely coming back next time,” Hambrook said. “It's cool that there's a lot of people showing up, too.”

Daniel Lundsford, of Aberdeen, his girlfriend, Cerissa Saudarg, and their 3-year-old son, Lucas, made their first visit to a Bel Air Christmas parade, too.

Lucas, who wore a red Santa hat, ran around excitedly after the parade before the trio headed to Shamrock Park.

“It was wonderful,” Saudarg said of the parade. “It was a lot bigger than we expected.”

She said she enjoyed seeing “just a ton of community involvement” with multiple organizations participating.

Lundsford said his son enjoyed seeing horseback riders, marching bands, a performance by his classmates from Dance With Me School of Dance in Bel Air, “and of course Santa at the end.”

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