LEWISTON — It truly does not get any more Christmas than this.
At the edge of Kennedy Park on Wednesday night, just after dark, everyone seemed to have a cup of cocoa clutched in mittened hands. When they spoke — or laughed or sang — their breath came out in frosty plumes.
Bing Crosby’s voice crooned from speakers set up in front of the gazebo. Several children engaged in snowball fights, ducking behind trees or parents for cover. Adults admonished them, but they laughed as they did so.
“Keep it up,” one man barked at his son, “and you won’t get to see Santa.”
Yeah, right. Seeing Santa is the goal of the whole thing. There’s a lot going on at the yearly Parade of Lights, but ultimately, the children want to see the jolly old St. Nicholas.
“He still believes,” said Regina Caron, who came out to the park with her 5-year-old grandson Wesley Roy. “He wants to see Santa when he comes.”
It was 6:30 p.m. The people of Dionne Entertainment had announced that Santa would be arriving in a half hour. In kid time, that’s forever, and it was starting to show.
Wesley stomped his feet. He pressed his hands to his face and sort of groaned.
“You have to be patient,” his grandmother told him, “if you want to see Santa.”
The wait was long. Fortunately, there were distractions. There were snowmen to be constructed and cocoa to drink. There were carols to be sung and Christmas lights to be admired. Nearly as much as he wanted to see Santa, Wesley wanted a ride on the horse-drawn wagon.
The line was long; something else to wait for.
Caron has lived in the area all her life, she said, but this is the first time she’s come out for the parade. You get the feeling her grandson has a lot to do with the renewed enthusiasm.
“I usually don’t come out,” she said. “But for him, yes. I have the Christmas spirit.”
There were hundreds in Kennedy Park and at least that many across the bridge in Auburn where the tree-lighting was underway. Costumed characters roamed everywhere and a chorus sang holiday songs.
Among them was 10-year-old Noah, getting ready to sing before the crowd that grew bigger by the minute.
“His first time,” said Dana Fields, Noah’s dad.
The boy wasn’t nervous, but his father was a little shaky. Mostly, he was proud.
“Extremely proud,” Fields said. “He is in chorus and band and basketball … A good kid all around.”
Good children is what it’s all about, at least as far as Santa is concerned.
When he arrived — finally — it was in celebrity style. Several hundred people came marching up Pine Street in Lewiston, singing “Jingle Bells” and leading a parade of floats, firetrucks, school buses and a giant L.L. Bean boot.
Santa and Mrs. Claus sat on a velvety seat in the back of a wagon, waving to the crowds that surrounded them. When they realized who had just arrived, the children reacted in a variety of ways.
One little girl jumped straight up and down while another just stared, her mouth wide open. A little boy waved so frantically from his mother’s arms, one of his mittens flew off. At the top of a snowbank at the side of the road, a small girl was among the first to recognize what was afoot.
“Santa Claus is coming,” she yelled and, when nobody paid her much attention, she reared back, drew a big breath and screamed it louder; “Santa is coming!”
She was absolutely correct and for several minutes, Pine Street and the edge of the park was a thrashing throng of wide-eyed children and their grinning parents.
Santa had come after all, and in Lewiston-Auburn, it was officially Christmastime.