By Donald Wittkowski
Sisters Grace and Jamison Stepp wanted to be among the first spectators to see Santa Claus, so they grabbed some prime seats on the sidewalk near the start of Ocean City’s Christmas Parade.
They were hoping they would be close enough to draw Santa’s attention, perhaps even letting him know some of the gifts they would like to find under the tree on Christmas morning.
“I want a Pop the Pig game,” 4-year-old Jamison exclaimed.
Grace, 11, said she is counting on Santa to bring her an iPhone.
Judging by the thousands of other children who lined the Asbury Avenue parade route Friday night, Santa will be very busy this Christmas filling the wish lists of all the good boys and girls.
Making his grand entrance at the parade, Santa glided along in an open carriage pulled through the downtown shopping district by a beautiful white horse.
Sorry, kids, Rudolph and the other reindeer couldn’t make the parade this year because they were getting their rest in the North Pole. Santa wants to make sure the reindeer will have plenty of strength to pull his sleigh on Christmas Eve.
As he passed by the blocks of spectators on Asbury Avenue between Sixth and 11th streets, Santa enthusiastically waved to the crowds and greeted everyone with a hearty “Merry Christmas!”
The adoring children replied with cries of “Santa! Santa!”
The parade also featured a colorful procession of marching bands, dancers, floats, cartoon characters, costumed dogs and fire trucks trimmed in Christmas lights. Even the Grinch was in a festive mood, waving to the crowds while standing on a float.
Michael Hartman, Ocean City’s director of special events, said the relatively mild weather Friday night helped to produce a big turnout.
“I thought it was amazing,” Hartman said. “I think everyone experienced the joy of the Christmas season. The parade brought all of the spirit of the holiday season and spread it along the route.”
The parade is one of the centerpieces of a busy schedule of holiday events through December designed to attract visitors to the downtown business district and the Boardwalk.
Patty Talese, president of the Downtown Merchants Association, was enjoying a packed crowd inside her Jon & Patty’s coffee shop and bistro on Asbury Avenue after the parade.
“It certainly brings in the customers,” Talese said. “The parade and all of these other holiday events bring people to town to shop and eat.”
The city’s Christmas decorations – big, red bows draped on the Victorian-style street lamps and strands of green garland hanging over Asbury Avenue – provided a festive backdrop for the parade. Many of the storefronts were decked out in bright, twinkling lights and holiday finery.
City officials say the parade solidifies Ocean City’s reputation as a family-friendly town. Parents who experienced the parade when they were children often bring their kids to the holiday spectacle.
Grace and Jamison Stepp were accompanied by their mother, Kelly Stepp, of Richboro, Pa., and their grandmother, Patrice Krivulka, of Ocean City.
Stepp, Krivulka and the girls enjoyed a great vantage point to watch the parade unfold at the intersection of Sixth Street and Asbury Avenue.
“We knew about this spot,” Stepp said.
As the parade was just about ready to get underway at 6 p.m., Grace and Jamison said they were anxious to see Santa.
They wanted to grab a word with Santa to tell him their gift ideas.
Stepp, breaking into laughter, told her daughters that they would have to be on the “good list” if they expected Santa to bring them their gifts.
Christmas gifts were also on the mind of 8-year-old Delaney Kampmeyer as she waited for Santa to make his appearance.
“I want an iPad,” Delaney said.
Her mother, Ocean City resident Jeanette Kampmeyer, reminded her daughter that she also likes dolls.
“Yeah, I want dolls, too,” Delaney said.
As much as Delaney wanted to see Santa, there was someone else in the parade who served as her star attraction.
Her father, Ryan Kampmeyer, an Ocean City firefighter, was expected to ride in the parade on a fire truck.
“Maybe next year we could be in it,” Jeanette Kampmeyer said to Delaney, raising the possibility that she could join her dad on a fire truck in the 2018 Christmas parade.