Curbs and sidewalks in downtown Solvang were packed with locals and visitors who gathered Saturday for the annual Julefest Parade that drew 49 entries and more than 400 participants for the procession that lasted just over an hour.
One spectator described the weather — which eventually hit 72 degrees under a cloudless sky — as “precisely perfect for a perambulating parade.”
As he pulled off his Santa hat to wipe sweat from his forehead, he added, “Is this really Christmastime or Memorial Day?”
The crowd was as sunny as the sky, with adults cheering and clapping for various entries and children squealing and laughing as they darted into the streets to snatch up candies tossed from many of the passing floats and vehicles.
Led by an honor guard from American Legion Post 160, the parade was presided over by Brad Vidro, the city manager for Solvang who is retiring at the end of the year after 13 years of service to the city, 12 of those spent overseeing the city’s day-to-day business.
A panel made up of nonpartisan, non-Solvang residents Bob Freed, William Morton and Bill Peden rated each entry from shaded tables on Mission Drive next to Solvang Park, where Laura Kath reprised her role as announcer for the 12th year, providing the audience with background on the entrants and descriptions of their entries as they passed.
There was everything a parade aficionado could want: dressed up dogs, ponies with hats, 1950s Ford convertibles, young gymnasts, a Toyland town, a train, a snowman, living equestrian Orphan Annie dolls, a 1967 Camaro RS, folklorico dancers, Danish motorcycles, a plushy moose, Girl Scouts, Grinch hats, old tractors, draft horses, a 1954 bus, Legionnaires on Harleys, a Ferrari, Vikings, a really big white dog, a really small marching band and a movie star — that would be the 1963 Volkswagen Beetle known as Herbie the Love Bug.
This year’s parade theme was “A Danish Tradition,” and judges decided the Best Theme Oriented Award should go to Atterdag Village, which turned a stretched golf cart into a rolling gingerbread house occupied by some of the retirement community’s residents and staff.
The Best Float Award went to the Capuchin-Franciscans of San Lorenzo Seminary, Old Mission Santa Inés.
The religious order had members of the Segal family dressed as ranchers and Native Americans seated against the backdrop of a hollowed out tree stump, a barrel and wagon wheel aboard a flatbed truck, followed by Father Peter Banks and the seminary novices on foot in their brown robes.
Alisal Guest Ranch took home the Best Equestrian Entry Award, with riders from the 70-year-old resort dressed in authentic western clothing — well, except for the Santa hats.
St. Francis Ranch drove away with the Best Vehicle Entry Award with its fully equipped 1928 New York Mills Fire Department pumper truck whose passengers included a towering plushy polar bear.
The youthful musicians of the Santa Ynez Valley Jazz Band captured the Best Musical Entry Award, setting toes tapping as they rolled along the route playing snappy renditions of Christmas carols from atop their flatbed truck.
Performers ranging in age from 5 to 12 earned Cruz Dance & Entertainment’s entry the Best Performance Group Award as they sang and danced their way through the parade, carrying on a 25-year tradition.
But a mysterious Christmas gift on wheels, a banged-up dirt car on a trailer and a group of enthusiastic students gave the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Pirate Garage the Best Overall Entry Award.
Members of the automotive club not only do the maintenance and repairs on the dirt car they built, but they also race it.
Pirate Garage was one of two entries representing fun extracurricular activities that teach skills and offer competition at SYVUHS, with the second being the MechaPirates Robotics Team 5136, who marched alongside a robot they built especially for the parade in just six weeks
Winding up the parade were Santa and Mrs. Claus, riding their special “parade sleigh, which they parked at Solvang Park to hear children’s gift requests and pose for photos with them — and their parents and grandparents.
The line of families waiting to see Santa stretched from the gazebo all the way past the picnic tables to the restrooms at the west end.
A spokeswoman for the Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau, which sponsors Julefest, said it was the longest line the organization has ever had for the visits with Santa.
For those who didn’t get a chance to meet the Jolly Old Elf, he and his missus will be at the Solvang Park gazebo again from noon to 4 p.m. Dec. 15 and 22 for more free visits with children of all ages.
Julefest — pronounced Yulefest — kicked off Dec. 1 with a host of activities, including free and VIP Candlelight Tours, the free Nisse Adventure treasure hunt, the Shop, Mingle & Jingle Weekends, the Skål Stroll Wine & Beer Walk and the free Live Nativity Pageant. The monthlong celebration will conclude with the Christmas Tree Burn Safety Demo on Jan. 4 at Old Mission Santa Inés.
For a continually updated list of activities, visit www.SolvangUSA.com/julefest