MANATEE -- Downtown Bradenton and the Manatee River will be bustling with holiday activities Saturday, with the 18th annual Christmas Boat Parade on the river and the second annual Sounds of the Season on Old Main Street.
Sounds of the Season replaced the long-running Winter Wonderland on Old Main Street last year. Organized by the Del Couch Music Education Foundation, it launched a successful new experience with more fun to be expected as things kick off at 5:30 p.m. A 12-foot-wide screen will be set up around Fourth Street West for a viewing of "Polar Express," Couch said. Down the road in the courtyard of the retirement community across from city hall, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus will be available at Christmas village.
Further along Old Main Street (12th Street West), Manatee County School Board members will take on each other in a Christmas tree decorating contest. The street will feature plenty of food vendors, including the DeSoto Historical Society offering hot cider. Two snow blowers will continue to toss out snow throughout the event, which ends at 10 p.m. On the Manatee Avenue side of Old Main Street, the primary stage will have children from various local schools singing Christmas carols until 8:30 p.m.
At that time, Shaman will take the stage for the final concert of the night, with a guest appearance from Bradenton's own "America Idol," Sam Woolf.
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"We had a really good turnout the first year," said Couch. "It got a lot of positive reviews, especially for the school kids singing. People do miss the slide from the previous events, but it had fallen into disrepair and had become a liability to the city. That's why we are bringing in the two massive snow machines."
To get people ready for Saturday's big event, Manatee High School students will be Christmas caroling Friday on Old Main Street, visiting several restaurants "to get people into the spirit," said Couch.
On the Manatee River, the 18th annual Christmas Boat Parade will set sail at 6:30 p.m. Ideal viewing is at Pier 22, Bradenton Yacht Club, Regatta Pointe Marina, Twin Dolphins Marina and Riverhouse Reef & Grill. Seating fills up fast, according to Natalie Purcell, marketing director at Pier 22, but additional viewing is available along the waterfront and from the Green Bridge fishing pier.
"It's a very popular event," said Purcell. "The restaurant always sells out because it's so highly anticipated. We've seen a decline in boats in recent years, but we pushed hard for a year and have 20 so far and hope we can continue to see it grow. The goal was 30, so we'd like to see more people involved."
For the second year in a row, Pat Bustle will be the grand marshal and lead the parade of boats. Bustle, who has been in the parade for 12 years, said this will be his last for a while.
"It's a lot of work getting the boats ready and decorated," he said. "I spend three or four evenings decorating, and that is the biggest amount of work involved. The numbers have gone up and down over the years. We've had 30 and some years only 14 or 15. It's varied so much because many boaters just don't have the time to get their boats ready."
Bustle said he needs to take a break from the parade, but it has been worth it and hopes more boaters get involved in the coming years.
"People love it," he said. "We can see all the people from the boats and it's always standing room only at the restaurants. It's a great family friendly event for the holiday."
Living Nativity in Parrish
If the Manatee County High School carolers don't get you in the holiday spirit, head on over to the Parrish United Methodist Church from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday for the annual Living Nativity, featuring live animals and church actors depicting the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.
Youth Director Julie McNaughton said the two-day free event draws hundreds of people each year and easily had 600 people take the tour last year.
"It's an exciting time of year for everyone," said McNaughton. "People really enjoy it and enjoy the focus on the true meaning of Christmas. We've seen it grow steadily, and it evolves every year."
McNaughton and her husband Joe said the event has become more hospitality-oriented over the years with an opportunity to mingle, enjoy live music and refreshments, and there are crafts for the children before each tour. The tour lasts about 20 minutes and a new one begins every 10 minutes during the event. Parrish United Methodist Church is located at 12140 69th St. E.
To see the rest of the plentiful holiday events going on in Manatee County, visit the Bradenton Herald event calendar at Bradenton.com.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.