Next to the railroad bridge on State Street, Scotia resident Donna Bazicki and her family had their yearly picnic and took in a parade on Saturday evening.
“Every year, the family gets together. It started out with pieces of pizza, and then we made it into a big picnic,” she said. “We’ve got hot dogs, chili and sandwiches and cupcakes.”
The event that drew Bazicki and her family, plus thousands of other people from the Capital Region willing to brave the cold air in downtown Schenectady, was the 43rd Annual Gazette Holiday Parade. The route stretches up State Street from Schenectady County Community College to the MVP building.
For Bazicki, the parade has become an tradition in her life, which she couldn’t imagine missing. “It’s been cold, but we always manage to make it through,” she said.
The tradition dates back at least 11 years, according to her grandson, 11-year-old Ian Viall of Scotia. He said his family has been coming to the parade since “before I was born.”
Viall and his family had arrived at their spot 90 minutes before the parade began at 5 p.m. Their setup included folding tables that they transported with a red wagon. Forty minutes before the parade, Viall was in high spirits, having consumed one cupcake already and with plans to eat at least two more.
Mostly, though, Viall was excited about the final float of the two-hour parade. “I really like to see Santa Claus,” he said.
This year, the family had a slightly smaller crowd than usual, said Viall’s mother, Catherine Marker, but they still brought plenty of food. “Last year, we fed one of the street vendors,” she said.
Darryl Pittman, 29, is a veteran of holiday parades in New York City, but on Saturday he got his first taste of what Schenectady could offer.
It was a different story for Kathy Gadoury of Schenectady, who used to come to the parade with her father when she was a kid and now brings her grandchildren. She definitely learned some tricks of parade viewing over the years, as she had situated herself in the open trunk of the van she had parked in a lot almost touching State Street.
“Every year, we’re here,” Gadoury said. “[My grandchildren] look for Santa Claus every year.”
Gadoury said she really appreciated being able to share this tradition, which she described as one of the really positive things the city has to offer. “This is the biggest thing they have in Schenectady for people to enjoy,” she said.
The parade also marks the start of her holiday season, as Gadoury said she’ll be getting a Christmas tree this week.
The parade began a little after 5 p.m., with representatives of the Schenectady Fire Department leading the way. Their presence included a “Thomas the Tank Engine” float, which is a familiar looking blue engine with a face.
“Kids are crazy for Thomas,” said firefighter Jeff Huth, who came up with the idea because of the parade’s cartoon theme.
“Everybody who sees it loves it,” he said. “We knew we had to go big.”
Firefighter Mike Stanley said firefighters take a lot of pride in the fact they’re leading the parade. “We try to put a good effort together,” he said.
The Schenectady Fire Department was followed by a slew of other fire companies from all over the Capital Region. The Stanford Heights Fire Department had the most enthusiastic firefighters, who were on top of a fire truck and dancing to rock music.
The parade also featured a blown up Smurfette float, which became a challenge for the people towing the ropes lines whenever they were faced with traffic lights. The giant blue mass would have its face pulled down almost to the ground to avoid the wires crossing the street.
The characters from Peanuts were popular choices for participants, with some wearing the classic yellow T-shirts. There was also a manger scene that included Jesus’ parents with Superman, Batman and Venom. The parade also featured people riding by on horses, who were followed a close distance by a man with a shovel and an almost never ending task.
The women from Paul Mitchell salon weren’t the only people to incorporate themes from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” but they were the only ones who had all their participants sporting hairdos that resembled the styles of the Whos.
While the weather for this year’s parade definitely wouldn’t have been considered warm, Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, a veteran parade participant, said it was much more comfortable than previous years.
“Historically this is the coldest day of the year,” he joked, adding that he normally wears two sweaters, long johns, two pairs of socks, ear muffs, a heavy overcoat and a scarf. This year, he said, “no earmuffs.”