ALPENA — As the start of the annual Bolenz Jewelry Holiday Parade in Alpena neared on Friday evening, residents and visitors filled the sidewalks in downtown Alpena, pouring into Chisholm Street and 2nd Avenue from all directions.
Children pranced and bounced, peering down the street and asking good-natured parents when the parade would begin.
“Let’s get this party started,” one pink-coated girl said, bounding toward the road and peeking one more time to see if the evening’s festivities were close at hand.
Some people sat in warmly lit restaurants, gathered around tables in smiling groups, while others stood on sidewalks — kids in hats, dogs in vests, teens taking selfies, grandmothers in sparkling reindeer antlers.
From a business doorway, Perry Como crooned, “Happy Holidays.”
Finally, a swirl of blue and red lights and a drumbeat in the distance meant the parade was coming.
Parents, almost as eager as their children, stood on toes and craned their necks to check the parade’s progress.
Slowly, slowly it came.
And then it arrived. With a burst of music, a school marching band took the lead. After it trailed float after float laden with lights and life.
Gingerbread houses and blow-up cartoon characters.
Princesses and Frosty the Snowman on a horse.
A tropical paradise. A giant bee, or possibly a butterfly.
From a local dentist, molar bears in a toothbrush forest.
Forests transplanted onto truckbeds. A giant teddy bear and an enormous Kris Kringle.
A full-sized train engine, outlined in white and belching smoke from its smokestack, garnered oohs and aahs, and a hot-air balloon basket blazing ropes of flame into the sky filled the night with light.
Too soon, ambulances honked and fire engines wailed and the parade neared its close, the crowds on the sidewalk still peering, knowing one more float had to come.
As he does each year, to the delight of young and old, Santa Claus, his beard soft and white in the gleaming green lights of his sleigh, extended his arm this way and that, his coming, for many, the long-awaited unofficial start of the Alpena Christmas season.
Families hugged and said goodbyes as they went their separate ways. As quickly as they came, the crowds dissipated, only to reconvene in Culligan Plaza, where they took turns posing for photos at the base of the town’s Christmas tree.
Alpena’s tradition of holding the parade at night makes the event extra-special, said resident Amanda Nielsen as she and her family stood among a throng of photo-snapping residents at the base of the town tree.
“I think it brings us together as a community,” Nielsen said, describing adults along the street watching out for each other’s kids on the curb.
For the next few years, the community will value its traditional gatherings more than ever, said Alpena resident Rob Eisenman.
“Every event post-COVID will have a little more meaning to it, don’t you think?” Eisenman said.
The crowded streets bustling with people make for a “nice, quaint night,” said Alpena resident Jason Herring, there with his wife, Leslie Herring, and daughter, Ryen, 5.
The family attends the parade every year, Leslie Herring said.
“It just starts off the holiday season right,” she said.
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, [email protected] or on Twitter @jriddleX.