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Ho! Ho! Ho! Santa, Florence parade attract a happy crowd

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Santa discusses the gift wishes of Eliza and Anna Lacroix of Florence at the Community Center following the parade Saturday.

    JOSH KUCKENS
    Santa discusses the gift wishes of Eliza and Anna Lacroix of Florence at the Community Center following the parade Saturday. Purchase photo reprints »

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Santa leans in to hear Zola Simonelli, 6, of Haydenville at the Florence Community Center following the parade Saturday.

    JOSH KUCKENS
    Santa leans in to hear Zola Simonelli, 6, of Haydenville at the Florence Community Center following the parade Saturday. Purchase photo reprints »

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Becky Landry, 17, of Florence, waves with her improvised "Honk if you're on the nice list" sign during the Florence Parade Saturday.

    JOSH KUCKENS
    Becky Landry, 17, of Florence, waves with her improvised "Honk if you're on the nice list" sign during the Florence Parade Saturday. Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Holyoke Caledonian Pipe Band marches down Main Street during the parade Saturday.<br/>

    The Holyoke Caledonian Pipe Band marches down Main Street during the parade Saturday.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Santa discusses the gift wishes of Eliza and Anna Lacroix of Florence at the Community Center following the parade Saturday.
  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Santa leans in to hear Zola Simonelli, 6, of Haydenville at the Florence Community Center following the parade Saturday.
  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>Becky Landry, 17, of Florence, waves with her improvised "Honk if you're on the nice list" sign during the Florence Parade Saturday.
  • The Holyoke Caledonian Pipe Band marches down Main Street during the parade Saturday.<br/>

The small but ever-popular parade is the official kickoff of the holiday season for many and has become a favorite tradition for young and old alike.

“We have been coming to this parade ever since it started 23 years ago. We look forward to it every year,” Florence resident Elaine Kostek said. “We used to bring our son and daughter, and now here we are bringing our grandchildren,” she said.

Elaine’s husband, Peter Kostec, one of the volunteers who string the holiday lights in town, said that the family always stakes out the same spot from which to view the festivities.

“I think that we should have our name in the cement here,” he joked as he stood outside of Bird’s Store at the intersection of Main and Chestnut streets.

Meanwhile, the couple’s grandchildren Jake Kostec, 4, Marty Maslowski, 7, and Trevor Maslowski, 9, were tightly huddled up together on a blanket, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the float carrying Santa Claus.

Many parade-goers enjoyed the free hot chocolate that was being served by employees of Caldwell Real Estate outside of Murduff’s jewelry store.

“We have been coming to this for about four years now, ever since we moved here from St. Louis, Missouri,” Leeds resident Kathy Smith said as she sipped hot chocolate with her 6-year-old daughter, Molly Smith-Eilenberg. “It is our new family tradition in our new home and we love it,” she said.

As the parade got under way, the bagpipes of the Holyoke Caledonian Pipe Band played the popular tunes “Scotland the Brave” and “The Minstrel Boy,” followed by Mayor David Narkewicz smiling and waving to the crowd.

Other contingents this year included the Florence Community Band, the Expandable Brass Band, a Holyoke-based fife and drum corps, the Melha Shriners, classic and antique cars and of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus.

While adults clapped and danced to the jazzy sounds of the Expandable Brass Band, children scrambled for the coveted pieces of candy tossed to them by some of the marchers.

The parade ended at the Florence Civic Center where Santa Claus greeted throngs of excited youngsters.

Heather Punska of Hatfield and her children, 5-year-old Kaia Masenier and 7-year-old Ellia Masenier, were some of the many waiting to see Santa.

“We have come to the parade before, but this is the first time we have stayed to see Santa,” Punska said as her two girls happily shared their booty of candy.

“The candy — that was the best part of the parade,” Ellia said. “They threw it kind of hard, though, so it was kind of hard to get, but we did it,” she said with a broad smile.

Amherst resident Indira Kris said that she almost didn’t attend until her husband, Jeffrey Kris, who recently opened Pioneer Valley Upholstery on Chestnut Street, convinced her to go.

“I have never been to this parade before but I think it is just beautiful,” Kris said.

“It is free, family fun, and I am so glad I came.” she said.

Parade coordinator Mike Flynn said the brisk weather may have deterred some of the marchers from participating, calling this year’s parade “a little thin.” “I still think that it went very well considering the colder weather. The crowd was excited and full of enthusiasm as always,” Flynn said.

“It is nice to march in front of the hometown. People know what goes into it and they are so appreciative,” he said.

For Punska, the chill of the day was far from discouraging, and a welcomed part of the seasonal celebration.

“It should be cold — it is November and this is New England. Now all we need is some snow,” she added.

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