PORTSMOUTH — 'Twas a merry and bright Saturday night in Market Square, as thousands of Santa hat and twinkling necklace-wearing spectators celebrated the return of the city's holiday parade and tree lighting.
Revived after its 2020 cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 event drew an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people along Congress Street and adjacent roadways, according to parade coordinator Brinn Sullivan.
“The holiday parade is my favorite event of the year," said Sullivan, who is also the coordinator of the city Senior Activity Center. “The community, all the participants, the spectators, everyone comes together for joy. To be here, to celebrate the season, it’s just magical.”
Sitting in the middle of the street prior to the parade stepping off was the switch to light up the city’s holiday tree. This year’s Market Square tree, donated by the residents of Osprey Landing, is a 35-foot Colorado blue spruce decorated with 300 ornaments.
'Brings a smile': Kittery's first lobster buoy holiday tree has deeper meaning and cause
Invited by Mayor Rick Becksted to assist with lighting the tree was 2-year-old Logan Marie Kwoka, the daughter of state Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, D-Portsmouth, a former city councilor, and Katelyn Kwoka. A 10-second countdown preceded the two flipping the switch, setting the tree's 2,000 lights aglow.
In 2020, Becksted and his niece, Sloan, flicked the switch to light the holiday tree without the raucous crowd. Due to COVID-19, only members of the City Council and city staff were on hand.
Becksted reflected Saturday on seeing the large crowd size a year after the more somber event.
“It’s awesome. I mean, it makes it that much more enjoyable,” he said. “Like anything that we weren’t able to do last year, it’s bigger and more meaningful, I think, to people, and that’s really important these days.”
Deaglan McEachern, Portsmouth’s mayor-elect, looked at the people standing on Congress Street moments before the tree lighting.
“You don’t forget, but it’s a good reminder of how strong our community is to be out here and to be with one another and to be able to celebrate all the positive things that we get to do as a community,” he said.
Kicking off the parade were veterans from the New Hampshire Patriot Guard Riders, riding through on motorcycles, a truck and a trailer. With more than 1,100 participants, the parade featured high school marching bands from Portsmouth, Spaulding, Dover, Somersworth, Marshwood and Traip and a performance set to the seasonal classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by the Portsmouth Thriller dance troupe.
Members of the City Council and Portsmouth’s state representatives walked the streets with their loved ones and waved to onlookers, later followed by Portsmouth High School cheerleaders and athletes, including the state champion field hockey and boys lacrosse teams.
Students and advisers from Portsmouth High School’s “Project Planter Box” team were chosen by Becksted as the parade’s grand marshals, honored for beautifying this year’s outdoor dining spaces along city streets with the construction of 50 planters.
The Kiwanis Club of the Seacoast, Custom Pools, Redemption Hill Church and the Jimmy Buffet-themed Club Finz all had floats. Portsmouth’s 400th anniversary committee, preparing for the city’s 2023 celebration, also had a float, stealing the show by having a miniature horse trot alongside the groups’ participants.
Near the tail end of the parade, 50 Portsmouth Regional Hospital staffers were flanked by emergency vehicles, followed by fire trucks from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and from the Greenland, New Castle and Newington fire departments.
About an hour after the parade stepped off of Islington Street and began its slow crawl into downtown, a Portsmouth Fire Department truck transported perhaps the evening’s most important guest — Santa Claus.
“Santa is a unifying force,” Sullivan said before the parade. “He brings people together. He epitomizes the magic of the season and when everyone gathers in the square and everyone comes by and there’s a collective cheer and everyone is excited, that joy is contagious. That’s what we’re happy to provide here in Portsmouth.”
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Portsmouth NH revived holiday parade 'just magical' for crowd