MANATEE -- A crowd of 30 set up folding chairs along Caruso Road in East Manatee just as darkness was falling Sunday to watch the 15th Annual Horseshoe Cove Holiday Golf Cart Parade.
Once again, Janice and Gary Mast of Muskegon, Mich., won the onlookers over with their twinkling "Christmas Tree" entry.
The tree, which stands more than 10-feet tall, seems to be floating on air as it makes its way down the road in a shimmering aura, 1,300 lights revealing no visible sign of propulsion.
The Masts themselves are sitting in a golf cart hidden deep within the artificial boughs.
"We can't make out faces," Gary Mast said. "When we go over bumps, I yell out, 'Ow, I keep stubbing my roots.'"
"The tree is just amazing," said Horseshoe Cove resident Ann Jerman who had a cart in the parade, too. "Gary and Janice have become crowd favorites."
The Mast entry was one of 54 Christmas-themed carts pulling out of Horseshoe Cove at 6 p.m. to make their way down State Road 70 under Manatee County Sheriff's Office escort.
Led by Sgt. Michael Kenyan, Horseshoe residents drove their carts west to visit fans at Westwinds and Windmill Manor mobile home parks, whose residents include some shut-ins who look forward to the parade every Christmas, said Ellie Davis, Horseshoe Cove property manager.
The two-hour trek was followed by a festive dinner attended by roughly 150 in the Horseshoe Cove recreation hall.
The Mast's tree has become famous nationwide for an odd reason.
"Our son, Troy, is a teacher involved in advanced placement high school testing in science and math, and one
of the questions on some of the advanced placement tests for math this year is, 'How much surface area does a cone 11-feet by 10-feet in diameter have?' " Gary Mast said. "The question was derived when I asked Troy to figure how many feet of artificial boughs we would need to cover our tree."
Santa Claus and Mrs. Santa Claus made their parade debut this year under their Horseshoe Cove names, John and Millie Emond.
"When we left the North Pole we never realized how warm it would be in Bradenton," said John Emond, referring to the friendliness of the city as well as the temperature.
Dick Verzone, a longtime Santa, handed the reins to the bearded one's sleigh to the Emonds this year.
Susie and Tommie Anderson from Warsaw, Mo., just moved to Horseshoe Cove in October with their dog, Missy. They immediately caught the spirt of the park residents, who like to say they have more Christmas spirit than anywhere else in the United States.
"We loved it here immediately and wanted to get involved," Susie Anderson said.
The Andersons settled on a Florida Christmas theme.
"We stripped our yard," Susie Anderson said.
"Next year, we will add alligators," Tommie Anderson said.
"And flamingoes," Susie Anderson added.
The Andersons are hooked. So are Lolly Hubble and Bee Mahoney, who dressed as Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, respectively, for their cart, and Earl and Judy Bouma, who prepared a "Happy Birthday Jesus" cart.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.