Spirited, bundled locals braved the cooler-than-normal temperatures Friday night to kick off the holiday season and welcome one of its biggest celebrities: old Saint Nick.
Street lights and night stars shed a festive glow on State Street as more than 50,000 spectators hunkered down to watch Santa Barbara's 61st annual Downtown Holiday Parade.
Anticipation mounted as parade participants lined up at the 45-foot Douglas fir Community Holiday Tree near the corner of State and Victoria streets for the highly anticipated 6:30 p.m. start time and official tree lighting.
Spectators had staked out spots on State Street down to Cota Street — where the parade ended — hours ahead of the start time of the Downtown Organization-sponsored parade, this year themed “Holidays in Paradise.”
Ron and Fran Strahl of Montecito took a different parade-watching strategy, arriving just before the planned start but finding prime curb real estate near the city’s tree and Arlington Theatre.
“The grandkids are in it,” Fran Strahl proudly said.
“This is like the Fiesta parade, the way people stake their spot,” her husband added as a longtime parade-goer.
The suspense finally subsided just before 7 p.m., when the parade kicked off and the tree’s lights shone bright.
Spectators were wowed with 78 colorful holiday floats, high-stepping marching bands, performance groups and other walkers and riders.
The Strahls cheered on their two grandchildren, who showed off their moves to holiday-themed music as part of the Studio B Dance Company float.
Parents draped their kids in several layers and wrapped themselves in blankets to stave off the steadily dropping night temperatures, which were expected to hover around freezing overnight.
Many parade-watchers were armed with steaming cups of hot chocolate or coffee, and some even opted to watch the festivities from inside Starbucks.
Santa Claus and his festive sleigh were saved for last, when children and adults alike could welcome the jolly holiday icon before making a beeline for their cozier cars and homes.