NEWBURYPORT — Winter Storm Ezekiel held off long enough Sunday for Santa Claus to arrive by U.S. Coast Guard boat and then participate in the annual parade and Christmas tree lighting in Market Square.
Residents and visitors gathered along the waterfront at 3:30 p.m. as Mr. and Mrs. Claus made their unique entrance in traditional Clipper City-style without a sleigh and reindeer.
Throngs of people then lined the streets of Newburyport — many with coffee or hot chocolate in hand in the 32-degree weather — for the parade as candy canes were tossed to the crowd and the Newburyport High School and Triton Regional High School marching bands played music.
Everyone then joined together to sing Christmas carols before counting down to the lighting of the tree about 4 p.m., with the activities concluding before snow started to fall shortly after 5 p.m.
Newburyport couple Rob Vercellini and Carrie Morrison met a year ago and said they are excited to start their own traditions this holiday season, including this event.
Vercellini, who said this is the first year he attended, especially loves the backdrop of Newburyport's brick-stone buildings in the winter.
Looking ahead to the holiday season, Morrison said she values "spending time with family and friends, and really appreciating the beauty of Newburyport."
Together, they are looking forward to the annual Newburyport Holiday House Tour on Dec. 14 and "seeing all the beautiful decorations."
Matthew Hefron grew up in Newburyport, moved away for about 15 years and returned in 2016. Now, he appreciates the city he once wanted so badly to leave.
"I was born here and as a kid, I couldn't wait to get away," he said.
Now, he loves coming out to events such as the parade and tree lighting with his wife, Dawn Marie Hefron.
The couple doesn't have children, so they appreciate how welcome they feel at such events.
"We've lived in other places," Dawn said. "I find that Newburyport is all inclusive in that even if you don't have children, you don't feel like they exclude you."
She said this event, much like Yankee Homecoming and other such activities, is open to everyone. In other places they have lived, they did not feel as welcome.
"Here, you feel like you can come down here and participate, and I like that," Dawn said.
Her husband agreed, saying the city "goes out of its way for every holiday, even the small ones, even Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Just to be able to do the parade is such a cool thing. Anyone can join."
He added: "It's very much a tourist city, but there's so many local things that everyone is welcome to go to."
The parade was founded by the Rotary Club of Newburyport decades ago. It is co-sponsored by the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Santa will be available to visit in Brown Square from noon until 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7; Sunday, Dec. 8; Saturday, Dec. 14; Sunday, Dec. 15; Saturday, Dec. 21; and Sunday, Dec. 22. He also will be there from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec 13, and Friday, Dec. 20.
Staff writer Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.