Rain, snow, sleet can't spoil Philadelphia Thanksgiving parade

Santa Claus, feeling right at home with Philadelphia's weather, waved to children during Thursday's Thanksgiving Day parade.
Santa Claus, feeling right at home with Philadelphia's weather, waved to children during Thursday's Thanksgiving Day parade.
Posted: November 26, 2010

They had front-row seats for the best show in town Thursday.

Thousands of spectators bundled up against chilly conditions and even a brief snow flurry, sipped hot chocolate, and oohed and aahed as the long line of floats and marching bands in the 91st annual Thanksgiving Day Parade moved through Center City.

Crowds lined the entire parade route from JFK Boulevard and 20th Street to the Parkway and Art Museum, taking in the giant turkey, the cornucopia, and the Bugs Bunny balloons.

And the festive atmosphere was only enhanced by the wintry weather. By 10 a.m., snow started falling, leaving children to marvel at giant flakes and parents to snap photos of the sight.

Within 30 minutes, though, the pretty snow had turned to wet sleet. The crowd thinned a bit, but most people pulled out ponchos, umbrellas, and makeshift tents and stuck it out until the end.

"We drove three hours to get here, so we're staying," said Constance Morrison, who drove with her husband from Fredericksburg, Va., Thursday morning to be with their two daughters at the 6ABC Ikea parade.

Morrison and her family were ready for the weather. They sat in lawn chairs under two big umbrellas that covered the four of them and they had a large thermos of hot chocolate to keep them warm.

"We want to see Santa," Morrison said, adding that they'd been coming to the parade for 25 years and always looked forward to the grand finale.

For many families in the region and beyond, Philadelphia's Thanksgiving Day parade is such a big tradition that sleet and rain weren't going to ruin their plans.

Some families designated captains to organize their parade gathering and festivities.

Patrick Vaughn, of Chadds Ford, was in charge of setting up the meeting spot this year for his group.

He staked out their real estate before 7:30 a.m. on 16th Street, just north of JFK Boulevard. And soon, 21 relatives started showing up with hot beverages and snacks in hand, all decked out in their green-and-red elf hats.

The hats were a new addition about two years ago, Vaughn said. His family has been coming to the parade for more than 40 years.

The Whalen family - with 200 guests - had one of the most elaborate party setups on the Parkway. John Whalen of Phoenixville was in charge of organizing the 50th anniversary party.

"It started with one ladder 50 years ago [to get a better view] and it's grown to this," said Whalen, who arrived on the Parkway at 5 a.m. to set up the scaffolding, heater, tents, and tables. He also set up a video slide show of photos from the family's previous parade-viewing parties.

After the parade, 55 Whalen relatives parted ways with their guests and planned to have Thanksgiving dinner at the Overbrook Golf Club, said Bob Whalen of Bryn Mawr, patriarch of the party.

Some families have kept their tradition a little simpler.

LeRoy Hillecas of Langhorne has been taking his family to the parade for 20 years. This year, he arrived with his crew of six relatives at 7:45 a.m. and set up their makeshift tent out of three insulated metal boards.

"It takes two minutes to set up," he said.

With plenty of blankets, the three granddaughters made a cozy cave where they could watch the parade and stay dry.

For some, the parade is a relatively new custom.

Jeannette Wells moved from West Palm Beach, Fla., to the Lehigh Valley area about six years ago and was soon followed by her two daughters.

Over the last three years, the trio has been coming to watch the parade. On Thursday they huddled under one rainbow umbrella as a cold rain came down.

"We don't mind it at all," Wells said, sipping her Starbucks tea and bopping to the sound of the marching band passing by. "I always get excited about the bands."

Then there are those who revert to their inner-child excitement over parade floats.

As Big Bird rounded the corner at JFK Boulevard and 16th Street, Patrick Vaughn, proudly wearing his elf hat, couldn't help but yell, "Spin it!" - and he cheered as the people walking the Big Bird float complied.

Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com.

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