BANGOR, Maine — Just about the only thing resembling Christmas and winter wonderland conditions at the annual Bangor Rotary Festival of Lights Parade were the temperatures, which were in the mid-30s.
Unfortunately for those assembled on both sides of the streets and in adjoining buildings to see the 77-entry parade run from Railroad Street all the way downtown on Main Street, the only precipitation was rain, not snow, and other than a 30-minute lull in which nothing fell on parade-goers, it was constant from 4 to 5:50 p.m., when the Christmas tree downtown was lighted with Santa in attendance.
“My guys didn’t stick around too long afterward. They just dumped their wet gear and left,” said Bangor police Sgt. Robert Bishop. “I didn’t get an official crowd estimate, but they did say they were surprised. It looked like more people than last year despite the weather, and it was a very well-behaved crowd too.”
Last year thousands reportedly flocked to downtown for the parade. While this year’s crowd may or may not have been larger, there’s no doubt the parade itself was.
This year’s parade was up eight entries from last year’s total of 69, and there was much more “wattage.”
“The floats were even more creative and much better lit this year,” said parade chairwoman Barbara McDade.
People lined the streets and sidewalks, peered out of overlooking windows, stood on or hung off door stoops, concrete structures and even lampposts and statues to get a good look at the assemblage of holiday spirit.
The most popular attraction? It depended on whom you asked, but anyone under age 10 had a ready and easy answer: Santa.
Amy Berlepsch and her three children — Jena Lee, 11, Kristine, 9, and Zackariah, 5 — came from Palmyra to see the rotund, red-clad man, and none left disappointed.
“My favorite part was seeing all the horses,” said Jena Lee, who was outvoted by her siblings.
“We like Santa,” Zackariah said without hesitation.
Ron Robinson and his wife, Stacy Robinson, of Holden found a prime parking space downtown next to Paddy Murphy’s, pulled down their pickup truck’s tailgate and stood on the truck bed to get a good view. And they didn’t even arrive early.
“We got here around 4 and then saw this spot open up so we backed the truck up and got it,” said Ron Robinson, who has attended each of the Rotary parades. “It’s a tradition.”
McDade, who also is Bangor Rotary Club vice president and Bangor Public Library’s director, was happy with both the turnout and the quality of the parade entries.
“I think it turned out fairly nice, all things considered,” said McDade.
Parade entries drew groups from Greater Bangor and from as far away as New Hampshire and Madawaska.
Madawaska High School’s 80-member band left the school parking lot at 6:30 a.m. and arrived in Bangor around 11.
“We’ll be back around midnight. It’s a long trip, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Martha Michaud, who is in her eighth year as band director. “We come down every year, and it’s something that’s become a tradition and something we look forward to.”
McDade orchestrates a group of 40 volunteers to put on the parade each year.
“I said three years ago, ‘Oh, we can’t give up the parade,’ and I’ve been in charge ever since,” McDade said.
The best floats, as voted on by a three-judge panel of Bangor City Councilors Geoff Gratwick Charles Longo, and Rotary Club president David Green, were as follows: Adult was a tie between Penobscot Special Olympics and Citizens of Maine LLC.; band was a shoo-in, as Madawaska was the only one to perform; commercial float honors went to Lane Construction; nonprofit organization was Cub Scouts Pack 11 of Brewer; best performer was Top Hat II Dance Team; and youth group first place went to Central Maine Twirling Corps.