Kemper Elston had it made Saturday night, sitting in a lawn chair along lower State Street with a $5 box of KFC on his lap as a cold rain fell.
He would soon get to see his 10-year-old sister, Mackenzie, dancing in the street to “Thriller” with her Ferrara Dance Studios classmates. He also had Santa to look forward to.
“I love Santa,” he said.
Kemper was among thousands of children and adults to swarm State Street for the 47th annual Gazette Holiday Parade, which was hosted by the Chamber of Schenectady and featured more than 100 floats.
For Kemper, seeing Santa wasn’t even the best part.
“When the police officers are in their cars and they pass by” was his favorite parade feature, he said, “because I like police officers.”
There was a light rain throughout the parade — an
improvement over last year’s freezing cold squall.
“It’s not bad,” said Teri Mohrman of Gloversville, who smartly stood under the railroad bridge on State Street to keep dry. “Last year, it was freezing. This year is nothing.”
Bundled and sitting side by side in tiny lawn chairs, 4-year-old twin sisters Alessandra and Giada Peccori looked up in quiet wonder as the big man in red approached them atop The Gazette’s Christmas float that marked the end of the parade. Then Alessandra starting yelling his name: “Santa! Santa! Santa!”
“They didn’t get to see the big guy last year because it was too cold,” said their mother, Nicole Pecori of Ballston Lake. “They’re excited this year, as you can tell.”
The parade’s floats — introduced by masters of ceremony Price Chopper executive Mona Golub and WRGB news anchor Dori Marlin — had everything from a Shrek-mobile promoting the Schenectady Light Opera Company’s upcoming production of “Shrek the Musical” to an impressive reenactment of the Battle of Iwo Jima flag-raising by the Schenectady Moose Lodge 251 youth group.
There were live musical performances from student marching bands and dancing displays from local studios. There were “gentle giants,” thanks to the Northland Newfoundland Club, and Whos from Dr. Seuss’ Whoville, courtesy of the Schenectady YMCA. Plug Power’s fittingly bright float was pulled by a fuel-cell powered tugger. Dave Hennel of Glenville and Rick Thompson of Glens Falls, regional leaders for Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, respectively, led the charge as the parade’s grand marshals
Mohrman and her friends, Bonnie and Mike Reuss of Broadalbin, were excited to see what the many participating fire departments had in store., and they weren’t disappointed: Firetrucks were decorated with bright lights, and firefighters were busting some serious moves. Members of the Stanford Heights Fire Department decked out their truck with Mardi Gras beads and danced to Neal Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” as confetti went flying.
“The firemen dance,” Bonnie Reuss said before the parade started at 5 p.m. “You’ll see why we like them.”
The floats celebrated many more holidays than just Christmas, including, perhaps most surprisingly, Groundhog’s Day.
“We wanted to do something that nobody else had done, and we thought it would be very fun and creative to do something like that,” said David Mannato of Wedekind Motors in Schenectady, whose float featured Punxsutawney Phil jumping out of his burrow alongside Miss New York. “We wanted to adopt him for this parade.”
The kids of the Schenectady County Community College Liberty Partnership Program built a Thanksgiving float complete with a giant turkey. It was their first year marching in the parade.
“It’s the holiday season, and we were told no other float would be doing Thanksgiving,” said Emanual McCall, youth development specialist for the program, which works with at-risk youth. “Our young people worked tirelessly with the help of their instructors to construct this wonderful Thanksgiving float.”
The outside of the float was painted with words expressing what the kids were thankful for, such as health, family and home.
“I’m thankful for my mom,” said Cheray Gardner, 13, of Schenectady. “We all helped decorate it.”
The kids of Brown School, a private school in Schenectady for children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, made the scales on the dragon that was their float, which paid tribute to Chinese New Year. The float was sponsored by the Upper Union Street Business District.
“We get real into this parade,” said Patti Vitale, head of school. “This kicks off the season.”
She said the kids would be happy to dance in the rain.
“You can’t dampen our spirits,” she said.