The Christmas Parade 

Twelve Shriners Shrining

Santa always comes last, which makes the wait worthwhile — no matter how freezing cold, how wet, how pavement-weary the parade watchers are. There's something heroic about the endurance test that is a Christmas parade: adolescent girls in too-tight leotards throwing and dropping batons; high-school bands that pick the spot right in front of you for a march-in-place percussion zone, all 20 measures of it; fearless but frightening Shriners in their zippy cars and zippier headgear, blasting just a bit too close. After it all, Santa is the glorious, affable finish line, the reason for parking a mile away and trudging with strollers and umbrellas to a sliver of curb on Broad Street.

Who can resist the squeals of delight as little kids take it all in — clowns bobbing, princesses perching, snowflakes and candy canes spinning on floats that are gaudy and bright? It's not exactly Christmas that's being celebrated here, but glorious kitsch and camaraderie wrapped in a stream of secular tunes and unlikely pairings. Who knew that Cookie Monster and Gumby had a relationship with St. Nick? From the sidelines, it's one big rolling party, a fine prelude to a cup of hot chocolate and a moment of gratitude for long

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