The 30-minute affair featured Zelienople police and firefighters, the Seneca Valley High School Marching Band, dancers, pageant queens and candy handed out by Salvation Army volunteers. But it was the little smiles, store visits, first-time experiences and final farewells that created the day's magic.
Joshua Hahn, an eighth-grader at Seneca Valley, received a trial by ice, playing trombone in the marching band for the first time, all in below-freezing weather.
“He told me, it's the first time he's marching, and there's snow,” said Jay Hahn of Cranberry Township, who also brought daughter Victoria, 10, and son Bradley, 12.
“We like to make it a time to walk up and down Main Street, go to the bakery, go to the hardware store to see the trains,” he said.
“We like the small-town atmosphere. I hope that fabric holds up.”
Ernie Strawser of Cranberry Township, who donned a Santa hat for the event, could think of little else but the marching band before the parade. His son Benny, an eighth-grader, plays trumpet in the band.
“We're very excited. It's a great band,” he said.
The feeling was mutual all around, as swaths of proud parents cut through the hundreds-thick crowd along Main Street, dashing through the light snow to take pictures of their instrument-wielding children.
Annie Lindsay of Seven Fields brought her daughter Meredith to the parade, continuing an old tradition in a new place.
“This is a holiday tradition. When we did it (as children), though, it was in Butler,” she said.
“We thought the Fourth of July parade here was great. And, this is a perfect parade for a 2-year-old. It's just long enough, and you get to see Santa at the end.”
Snuggled beneath blankets, a thick hat and mittens, Meredith Lindsay was happy to snack on miniature doughnuts and watch the festivities.
Bryan and Michelle Popp of Cranberry have returned to Zelienople after not coming for a few years.
“This is our first time at the Zelienople Christmas parade, but we've brought them up here to see Santa in the past,” Bryan Popp said of the couple's daughter Nicole, a freshman who plays flute, and son Dan, an eighth-grader who plays trumpet.
Michelle Popp said the family has grandparents from Murrysville and cousins from Philadelphia visiting to enjoy the marching band as well as the Main Street atmosphere.
“Zelienople is such a great little town,” she said.
Erika Wagner, 17, of Cranberry and Katie Lugaila, 17, of Zelienople attended their first Zelienople Christmas parade to support their friend Tara Seligman, a Seneca Valley junior who plays clarinet in the band.
“This is her last parade,” lamented Debra Seligman of Evans City, Tara's mother, who joined the teens on a Main Street bench.
“She's tired of not being able to watch the football games from the stands. She wants to just have fun her senior year,” she said.
The trio sipped hot chocolate from Z Town Cafe and planned to return there after the parade for breakfast.
“We're going to get pumpkin pancakes,” Seligman said.
Jarod and Erin Stewart of Harmony brought daughters, Ava, 7, Ellie, 5, and Nora, 2, to enjoy the parade.
“We used to bring the dog, too, but he heard the band one year and took off (scared) down the street,” joked Jarod Stewart.
“We've been coming here for a while. Both of us have lived here our whole lives,” Erin Stewart said.
“We did it before we had kids and it's something they enjoy.”
Still, the parade is representative of the holiday season at large kicking off.
“They have been bouncing around the house for days, excited,” said Jarod Stewart of his children.
And what better way to start the big holiday season than with a small parade, completed by Santa, pulled in a miniature sleigh by a pair of tiny black ponies.
Santa Claus then retired to his miniature house at the intersection of Main Street and Grandview Avenue, the biggest deal of the day for the dozens of children lined up to convey their holiday wishes.
Santa will be in his house weekdays from 6 to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 5 to 8 p.m. through Dec. 23.
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