MERRIMAC — Former selectman Rick Pinciaro and his wife Cathy had just moved in to their West Main Street home in late 1986 when their next holiday tradition began marching its way toward them.
“We were sitting on the front stoop and we heard music all of a sudden,” Pinciaro said. “Then this little rag-tag parade goes by so we found out it was an annual parade and we’ve had a parade party every year since.”
The formation in question was the annual Merrimac Santa Parade which makes it way across town on the first Sunday in December. While the parade itself has become a beloved tradition, so have the many house parties which spring up annually along the route.
The Pinciaros have been opening their house and its 50-foot porch to their friends and neighbors to view the Santa Parade ever since 1986 and will be doing so again when the parade kicks off at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 1.
“We would never not think of having it,” Pinciaro said. “Just being able to be on the parade route and to have a house and a porch big enough to accommodate everybody for this one event of the year is something that really kind of keeps us here.”
The Pinciaros aren’t alone in their love of the parade.
Connie Haberkern grew up watching the parade and inherited one of the more popular parties when she bought her family home on Forest Street 10 years ago.
“There was only one caveat to my buying that and that was to host the Santa Parade party along with my mom and my (two sisters) every year,” Haberkern said.
Haberkern’s parents Stan and Dorothy Whiting were the first family members to throw a Santa Parade party back in the mid-1980s and it has continued ever since.
Although the first few parade parties were for friends, family and neighbors, over the many years, it has grown to include anyone who gets an invite.
“Once you are invited to the party, you are invited in perpetuity,” Haberkern said. “We started out for family and good friends. But, as the family grew and as people got married and had children, it now is a party that stands for generations, with my mom being the patriarch. She’s 92 years old and she is like the Energizer Bunny.”
Haberkern went on to say the average parade party sees between 20 and 50 people passing through her house.
“People come before the parade because we have lots of food and beverages,” Haberkern said. “Folks also bring things so it really is a really comfortable family-friendly and neighborhood feeling.”
Both Pinciaro and Haberkern said they were happy to be a part of a town tradition.
“Many houses do in fact host house parties,” Haberkern said. “You’ve got to do what you love, you really do. It is wonderful to be part of and I have enjoyed being more of a part of it now. My mom really loves the tradition.”
Planning a party for some 50 people can be quite a challenge but it can be even more difficult when the party will happen only days after Thanksgiving. But Haberkern said that isn’t a problem for her family.
“Oh, I don’t host Thanksgiving,” Haberkern said. “We travel for that.”
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.