Bundled in a winter coat, Amy Patch clutched a thermos of hot chocolate Sunday as she waited for the XTO Energy Parade of Lights to begin.
Patch arrived four hours early to scope out a front-row perch to watch the parade with her husband and daughter. The Fort Worth woman said it was just what she needed to get into the holiday cheer.
“I feel like going home now and pulling out the Christmas tree,” she said. “The parade and cold weather are enough to get you in the spirit.”
Patch was among the thousands who lined the parade route and filled Sundance Square for the 33rd annual Parade of Lights, billed as the largest illuminated holiday parade in Texas. The parade, which for years has come the day after Thanksgiving, kicked off the season earlier this year.
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With a theme of “Let the Season Begin,” the parade boasted more than 100 professionally designed floats, 12,000 twinkly lights, live marching bands, equestrian units, antique cars, horse-drawn carriages and casts of carolers strolling a 1.58-mile route.
Fort Worth’s first freeze came Sunday morning, and after an afternoon warm-up, the temperature dipped into the 40s during the parade. As the sun went down, paradegoers huddled under blankets and slipped on stocking caps. A line for hot chocolate in the Sundance Square Plaza wound around Starbucks, a couple of hundred people deep.
Elisa Sanchez of Fort Worth said she wondered if it would be too cold to enjoy the parade. But Sanchez, who has attended the past nine years, decided to brave the cold with her cousins and two daughters, Elena and Elisa.
“We couldn’t let a little cold stop us from coming,” she said. “We had to be here.”
To ensure their comfort, the family packed plenty of snacks, like grapes and sandwiches, a couple thermoses of coffee and hot chocolate, extra blankets and lawn chairs. They have learned a little after their first year, when they showed up downtown with nothing but themselves.
“We know to come prepared now,” Sanchez said. “We basically make a whole day out of it. It’s our way to kick off the holiday season.”
Parade grand marshals were new Fort Worth schools Superintendent Kent Scribner, interim Superintendent Pat Linares and school board President Jacinto “Cinto” Ramos Jr.
After the parade, crowds cheered for the ceremonial lighting of the Sundance Square Christmas tree, and scores of children stood in line to sit on Santa Claus’ lap.
For Roger Andersen, the parade has long served as his family’s official start of the holidays. Andersen, who grew up in Fort Worth but now lives in Dallas, said he rarely misses the event. His children, 9 and 6, look forward to seeing the Wheelie-ing Elvi, Elvis impersonators on minimotorcycles.
“We try to make it every year,” Andersen said. “Getting here on a Sunday is a little more difficult than the day after Thanksgiving, but we didn’t want to miss it.”
Patch, who brought her daughter and husband, said the parade gives her a sense of pride in the city she calls home.
“Fort Worth is a very cool city,” she said. “It’s great to see all these people come together for one night to enjoy the holidays.”