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Santa wows young and old at parade

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A float lets off some pyrotechnics.

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 plan — well before his regularly scheduled time to shine — the early returns from an adoring fan base offered little complaint. Santa Claus is Justin Bieber or Justin Timberlake backed up by the Beatles. Or 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 Saturday evening. "I want to see Santa."

Rookies take note for next year: Most hoping to catch a glimpse of St. Nick Saturday had obviously done this before. Two hours before the scheduled start people were already setting up lawn chairs and blankets curb-side. "You have to get here early to get a good spot," offered Shirley Janzen, who was joined by her four-year-old son Sam.

So what do you want for Christmas, Sam?

"A Christmas tree," he shouted.

Well, aren’t you just adorable?

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

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 a 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 Ave., 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 for children longer, 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.

And before you knew it, once the supporting cast passed through, 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 miles on his old sleigh and its road-worthiness 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 up against the glass inside the MTS Centre atrium. "I see him."

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

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