ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- It may not have been as big as the Macy's, but the Anna Maria Island Privateers Christmas Parade on Saturday was just as exciting.
Life-long island resident Dina Franklyn said that's the way she felt about the annual parade that starts at the Anna Maria pier and winds its way down Gulf and Marina drives to Coquina Beach Park.
"I love it," said Franklyn, who watched the parade with her son, Tyler Brewer, 12, and friends along Gulf Drive in Anna Maria.
"I'm very lucky to live on the island," she said. "It's still the nicest place to live."
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Her friend, Dwayne Ludwig, who moved to the island in August from Lancaster, Pa., agreed.
"It keeps the community tight," Ludwig said, "It kind of shows a dedication to community."
Tyler, Conner Ludwig, 12, and Tuna McCracken, 11, all buddies in the sixth grade at King Middle School, got into catching beads and candy thrown from the floats as they passed their viewing spot.
"I didn't count how many beads I have," Conner said,
wearing a thick collar of the multi-colored plastic booty around his neck. "It was fun."
It was just as much fun for the adults.
There were many parade-viewing parties along the almost 7-mile parade route.
Pamela Lazaroff said she has held a get-together in front of her home on Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach for the past five years.
"I'm from New Orleans," Lazaroff said, "so, any reason for a party."
About 25 neighbors and friends lined the road, greeting all of the 80 floats and parade participants with waves and cheers. Besides the free-flowing libations, there was plenty of Creole chicken, jambalaya and barbecued shrimp.
"It's good friends and good food," said Becky Cramer, a friend from Cortez.
When the parade reached Coquina Beach Park, the float Santa rode pulled up and jolly St. Nick greeted a line of children waiting to impart Christmas gift wishes and to get pirate goodies.
"This is what it's all about," said Bob Dominas, president of the Privateers, "seeing the kids, and everybody smiling."
Dominas said holding the annual parade was a way to give back to the community for their support.
But the Privateers have been giving to the community since its founding in 1971, and helping families in need, providing scholarships and supporting island youth activities. They have been sponsoring the Christmas parade since 1984.
"It makes us all feel good," Dominas said.
The parade was not the only activity on the island Saturday.
The Anna Maria Island Art League kicked off its 27th annual Winterfest, a two-day juried fine arts and crafts festival held at the field adjacent to Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.
"It's our major fundraiser, along with our Springfest in March," said Laura McGeary, the art league vice president. "It helps fund our operations and provide scholarships." Winterfest continues from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Also on Saturday, the Christmas on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach featured live entertainment, a craft and cookie bazaar where children could sell their homemade wares, and a lighted boat parade.