OLEAN – Temperatures in the mid-1920s and flurries in the air could not keep thousands of people away from the sidewalks of North Union Street on Friday night.
Bundled up in heavy coats, hats, mittens and scarves, young and old eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa Claus in Lincoln Park. Rather than getting into a big red sled, Mr. and Mrs. Claus waved to the crowd from the top of a large red truck from the Olean Fire Department.
The return of the 36th annual Santa Lane Parade not only marks the real start of the holiday season in Olean, but a return to some normalcy after enduring 20 months of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Were excited. It’s nice to hang out with the family and come down,” said Paul Wallace, accompanied by Felicia Paterson. “Although it seems like the weather is still a bit hectic, but it’s a good thing.”
Wallace and Paterson came from Portville with Mia, 8, Max, 5, and Mazie, 3, who were all there for the same reason most of the kids were – a glimpse of Santa Claus.
“Hope to see a big ball,” Mia added. “I don’t care if it’s an animal or whatever it comes from, I just want to see a big balloon.”
“Don’t we also want to see Santa Claus light the tree?” Wallace asked.
“Yes!” cried the children in unison.
When Paterson asked them if they were excited, the kids noted instead that it was freezing
“It’s okay,” Paterson added.
The procession included 40 units and nearly 600 adults and children – smaller than in recent years due to the pandemic – and was seen by more than 2,200 people, according to the Greater Olean Region Chamber of Commerce.
“The embellishments of the six additional Lincoln Park arches and a new 14 ‘3’ star-paneled tree at the mall roundabout were great additions to Santa Claus Lane,” said the manager of operating GOACC, Meme Yanetsko.
After the sabbatical year in 2020, Yanetsko said there were a few small hiccups with the parade relaunched on Friday night in a new setup behind the Olean Center shopping mall and half an hour behind the hour usual. Otherwise, the event was a great start to the season.
“The units there were happy that this was happening, and I love it when all the lights come on,” she said. Although it was Santa Claus flipping the main switch on the main tree, Yanetsko said a coordinated team was flipping six switches to light up the entire city center in unison.
Coming from the West Clarksville area, Stacy Abdo said she and her family were delighted to see the parade again after it was canceled last year. She was accompanied by Allison Abdo, 8, and Kathy Adams, from Cuba.
“It’s a morale booster,” she said of the event’s return.
Stacy Abdo said they can’t wait to see Santa Claus, while Adams said she’s excited to see the lights. Allison, meanwhile, wanted to see the big Christmas tree.
“It’s our favorite time of year,” Abdo said.
“It’s freezing though,” Allison added.
Yanetsko said the chamber takes ongoing concerns about COVID-19 seriously and takes precautions if necessary when staging the parade. As an outdoor event, she said the parade was a certain normality for families, especially since all participants were in good health and it allowed Santa Claus to descend from the North Pole.
“We also had a round of fireworks by Young Fireworks right after the lights were turned on by the clauses,” she said. “We want to celebrate how the region has come together over the past 18 months, all the frontline staff and their dedication and in memory of all those we have lost over the past few months.”
The greater Olean region is a well-diverse community and as such people from all walks of life and faith attended the parade to celebrate the holiday gifts and graces, said Yanetsko, which really makes it a night for the community to come together. .
GOACC is also encouraging organizations to participate in the Portville Vacation Celebration and Allegany’s Vacation Celebration scheduled for dusk tonight. Other upcoming events include a pair of Jingle Bell Jubilee events, scheduled for December 3 and 10, as well as the Festival of Trees, a cocoa and cookie exploration, and a Rudolph 5K run on December 10.
“I think this is a great novelty for the end of the year and a way to kick off the holiday season in a way we’ve never had before,” added Yanetsko.
BEDROOM also announced the winners of several parade awards. Paula Snyder, Jamestown Community College; Jason Crisafulli, vice-chairman of the board of directors of GOACC; and Paula Bernstein, Olean City Schools, judged this season’s parade.
• The Blitzen Award, sponsored by the Olean Times Herald, was awarded to Hill View Stables of Olean as the most photogenic tank or unit;
• The Seasons Greetings Award, sponsored by Olean PC Repair and Security Cameras by Joe Duplechian, went to AudioTrax West of Portville, the best newcomer to the parade;
• The Rudolph Prize, sponsored by National Grid Co., was awarded to Conkey’s Automotive of Olean, for the tank with the most or best use of lights;
• The Snowflake Prize, sponsored by the Street Classics Car Club, was awarded to Olean Cub Scout Pack 617 for the unit with the most parade participants;
• The Angelic Spirit Award, sponsored by Mandy’s Flowers, was awarded to Church Without Walls (CWOW) of Olean as the most spiritual / religious float or unit;
• The Elves Award, sponsored by Owl Home Groups, was awarded to Paul Brown Motors of Olean for the tank or unit that best characterizes the vacation through the eyes of a child;
• The Jingle Bells Award, sponsored by Milestone Financial Strategies, went to Step Up Dance Academy of Allegany, the best float or theater unit (music / dance);
• The Sleigh Award, presented by the Bantelman Agency, was awarded to the Knapp Creek Volunteer Fire Department as the largest most decorated truck (fire truck, bed, utility vehicles).