Thousands of Midlands residents marveled Sunday at two Lexington County traditions - Christmas parades through the county's largest towns.
"It's almost like a rolling phone book," said Bryant Schaffer, 48, of West Columbia, who with his son, Strickland, 8, watched the West Metro Parade of Lights stream down 12th Street from West Columbia to Cayce.
They were two of thousands who stood, sat and shivered in low 40s temperatures as a endless stream of floats, high school bands, bikes, go-carts, motorcycles, pick-up trucks, ROTC units, beauty queens and even a giant 85-ton crane festooned with 1,000 lights - passed before them.
Earlier, the same sort of varied parade of floats, including marching bands, an Elvis impersonator, dancing school students and a plumbing truck, traveled down Lexington's Main Street, where several thousand watched in the December sun.
Both parades ended with a Santa Claus float with white-bearded living Santas whose natural white beards were dead ringers for the "real thing" - Mickey Garrison, 61, in the Parade of Lights, and Frank Gulley, 79, in Lexington.
Some people attended both.
"We just left the Lexington parade," explained Debbie Riley, 53, of Cayce, who was sitting on a curb at 12th Street in West Columbia shortly before 6 p.m. as the parade got under way.
Other sights and sounds from a festive day:
- "This is our Christmas gift to the community," said Tom Waring, a deacon at Holland Avenue Baptist Church on 12 Street. He and other deacons gave out 100 cups of coffee, 250 cups of hot chocolate and 600 doughnuts to spectators.
- Many turned out to see relatives in the parade. James Lykes, 59, was at the Lexington parade watching his 9-year-old granddaughter pass by. She's a member of the "Just Say No" Club at Oak Grove Elementary.
- Each parade was preceded by hundreds of hours of work by volunteers. Parade czar John Banks of the West Metro Parade estimated that some 1,500 people marched or rode in his parade.
- In the Lexington parade, a men's group from St. Mark's Baptist Church, sang a soulful rock carol with the lines, "If it hadn't been for love, there wouldn't be Christmas."
- In the Parade of Lights, the children's choir from the West Columbia Pentecostal Holiness Church sang a bell-clear rendition of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."
- Queens of every kind abounded in both parades, including Peach Queen Chelsea Dupree and Miss Greater Irmo Teen Allyson Smygert, and numerous ones in between.
- The Lexington parade featured a submarine float sponsored by the local U.S. Submarine Veterans group. Compete with a sub replica, it had the words, "There are 56 subs at sea keeping peace for you and me."
- The Parade of Lights featured a float with a $30,000-plus silver Harley Davidson chopper motorcycle. It was sponsored by the Lexington County chapter of ABATE - A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments.
- Both parades were magnets for politicians. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, a candidate for governor, flew back from a New York fundraiser just in time to make the Parade of Lights. Bauer, an exercise enthusiast, bounded hatless along the sidewalk shaking hands.
- The Transfiguration Lutheran Church's float featured a huge birthday cake with the words, "Happy Birthday Jesus."
- Frank Stevenson, a Boy Scout leader, was marching in the Lexington parade when his 4-year-old son, Andrew ,ran out into the street and gave him a kiss. A wide smile crossed the older Stevenson's face. "It's always fun getting a hug and a kiss from my son."