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Santa rides in

Santa gives a double thumbs up to everyone as he arrives during the annual parade in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday afternoon. Below, toy soldiers were part of the parade lineup.

Don Carey/the times leader

WILKES-BARRE – Mayor Tom Leighton and Jolly Old St. Nick officially kicked off the holiday shopping season Saturday afternoon with the help of thousands of revelers at Wilkes-Barre’s 2008 Christmas Parade.

Representatives from local businesses, schools, municipalities and community organizations marched past throngs of parents and their wide-eyed children.

Christmas-spirited people of all ages gathered along South Main Street and around Public Square braving below-freezing temperatures and a stiff cold wind. Children dove into the street to pick up candy and other goodies flung from the myriad floats as they passed by festooned with lights, presents and elves.

The mayor said he and the city are optimistic about the upcoming very important shopping season. The Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association will provide seasonal surprises in the downtown right though Christmas, he said.

The “progress” being made in the city’s downtown leaves the mayor “extremely confident” of this year’s holiday business tallies, he said.

He thanked all the businesses for their support with the days’ activities before the parade. Children heard Yuletide stories at the Barnes & Noble store, watched the Polar Express movie, compliments of the Wilkes-Barre Movies 14, enjoyed caroling from the King’s College Cantores Christi Regis Choir, and e-mailed Santa via Frontier Communications Wi-Fi service, and more.

Just before the parade started, Ruthy Stock serenaded the crowd with sing-along carols.

Then an impressive line of floats and displays adorned with holiday themes edged up South Main, finishing by a stage set up on Public Square. The mayor and other dignitaries watched King’s College students dressed as toy soldiers dance in unison, the Connemara Irish Dancers step lively, David Blight dancers and the rock band the Three Imaginary Boys perform.

McCarthy Tire representatives drove a Christmas train and pulled a float with a working Ferris wheel. Martz Trailways rolled by in a bus fashioned from 1908, when the company started. Halls Auto showed off several of the mint condition classic cars, Kraft Foods representatives threw cookies into the crowd and the Luzerne County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals walked their newest candidates for adoption.

The four city high school bands marched, all playing their version of a Christmas classic.

After the parade, the mayor and Santa Claus lit the city’s Christmas tree in Public Square. The approximately 30-foot-tall evergreen covered in colored lights was grown in Hanover Township.

Children were able to get their pictures taken with Santa Claus, compliments of Boscov’s. One little boy could not conjure up the nerve to get close to the portly red-suited Kriss Kringle despite encouragement from his father.

In past years, the tree lighting would be done during the week and possibly 15 people would show up, the mayor said. Now many residents come by to enjoy the festivities, he added.

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