By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Santa Claus paid his annual visit to North Andover early Saturday afternoon with lots of style.
Waving to thousands of jubilant fans from the top of Ladder 1, the Jolly Man was immediately preceded by a seemingly endless stream of dancers of all ages, clad in red, elflike outfits, from Nancy Chippendale’s Dance Studios.
Indeed, many of the participants in the Santa Parade demonstrated their grace and agility by marching and dancing at the same time. North Andover School of Dance, Just Dance and Center for the Performing Arts each fielded an ample corps of steppers.
The Shriners, a Masonic organization known for both humanitarianism and boisterousness, provided a very audible presence.
Members of the Aleppo Shrine of Wilmington dressed as Minutemen fired numerous volleys with their muskets, while three of their colleagues delighted the crowd by driving miniature trucks — in varying directions.
North Andover and Methuen high schools have been known to oppose each other in football and other sports, but there was no trace of rivalry as the hometown’s Scarlet Knights band kept everybody in step near the front of the parade, while the Methuen Rangers maintained the beat toward the end.
Something like 50 churches, schools, businesses and other organizations contributed floats to the procession, which took about 45 minutes to pass. The entry from the local Roche Farmstand, which featured humans disguised as black-and-white Holstein dairy cows on the back of a truck, was judged best and won a blue ribbon.
The second-place red ribbon was awarded to the Snoopy float while Kids Karousel, a local store that sells children’s clothing, took third. The other floats received green ribbons.
“We grew up watching the Santa Parade,” said Susan Crockett, who now resides in Haverhill but lived at 399 Main St. during her childhood. She made it a point to watch the parade from that same spot.
“It kicks off the holiday season,” she said of the parade that has lifted the spirits of North Andoverites for at least a half-century, according to organizers.