Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'There he is!'

Santa's still the biggest rock star ever

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Four-year-old Madeline Dunton and her mom Sally wait along Portage Avenue for the parade to begin.

Premature arrival aside -- and yes, the lack of snow and above-normal temperatures play tricks with the mind sometimes -- the one they call Santa Claus made his way though Winnipeg Saturday night.

And even though the big guy in the red suit arrived 39 days ahead of schedule -- well before his regular time to shine on Christmas Eve -- the early returns from an adoring fan base showed little complaint. Santa Claus is Justin Bieber or Justin Timberlake backed up by the Beatles. To put it another way, the jolly old fellow is a rock star, as his presence above a standing-room-only crowd proved once again.

Why are you here, Anna Robinson?

"To see Santa Claus," the five-year-old beamed prior to the 104th annual Santa Claus Parade through downtown Winnipeg early last evening. "I want to see Santa."

Rookies take note for next year: Most of those hoping to catch a glimpse of St. Nick on Saturday had obviously done this before. Two hours before the parade was to start, people were setting up lawn chairs and blankets curbside.

"You have to get here early to get a good spot," offered Shirley Janzen, with her four-year-old son Sam.

So what do you want for Christmas, Sam?

"A Christmas tree," he shouted.

The warm-up acts came and went, with more misses than hits. Not that the tens of thousands lining Portage Avenue to take in the event needed to be warmed, thanks to another November day of above-zero temperatures.

The radio station dance party looked fun. The Art City robots and "van of speakers" certainly found an audience. The Winnipeg Jets exhibit, complete with organ music and the standard "Go Jets Go" chant preached to the choir, which stood a dozen people deep on the sidewalks.

Even before the almost 100 floats floated along Portage, organizers put a different twist on things.

Fourteen little block parties, making up most of the 16-block parade route, started an hour before Santa even climbed into his sleigh. Part of the idea was not only to make the experience longer for children, but to encourage people to find a safe vantage point well in advance of the holiday-season procession.

If those side-stage events didn't work to get people downtown, the free sugar cookies and hot chocolate before the parade did.

Before you knew it, once the supporting cast passed by, it was time for the headliner.

After Mrs. Claus stole the spotlight (surprising more than a few children along the way), Santa arrived on the scene in his traditional mode of transport.

He's put a few kilometres on his old sleigh and its roadworthiness had been put in question in the months leading up to the event, but some quick work by elves, er... students, at Winnipeg Technical College, made it street-legal once again.

"There he is," exclaimed a young girl, her face pressed against the glass inside the MTS Centre atrium. "I see him."

It was a rare and familiar sighting, all in one shot.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2013 A3

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