Thousands of people lined the main streets of downtown Solvang on Saturday for the annual Julefest Parade, with an entry for every week of the year, that stepped off at 11 a.m. under sunny skies as temperatures climbed to the mid-70s.
The theme of this year’s parade was “A Danish Tradition,” and more than 400 people in 52 entries danced, strolled, cantered and rolled along Mission Drive, Fourth Place, Copenhagen Drive and Alisal Road in what has become a Solvang tradition.
When the last of the floats, bands, equestrians, motorcycles, vintage cars, people, dogs and other animals finally passed, the judges handed the Best Overall Entry Award to Santa Ynez Valley High School MechaPirates Robotics Team 5136.
As the team members walked along the parade route, they were accompanied by a miniature sleigh carrying a stuffed Santa and wrapped gifts that rolled along with no reindeer pulling it, weaving from one side of the street to the other and sometimes reversing course, seemingly of its own accord.
However, it was under the guidance of a member of the team that built the robot in just six weeks expressly for the Julefest Parade.
The Best Theme-Oriented Award went to the Vikings of Solvang, who just happened to be the grand marshals of the parade, tossing candy to children as they sailed along the route in their longboat.
As the prow of the Viking ship moved into view, occasional cries of “Hide your women! The Vikings are coming!” could be heard from some of the veteran female parade watchers, drawing laughs from the surrounding crowd.
The service club’s entry navigated the streets not once, but twice — first near the head of the procession, then again by sneaking in nearer to the end of the lineup.
“We had to,” Chief Richard Saferite confided later. “We ran out of candy. We had to make a run to get more.”
Despite their fun-loving attitude, the Vikings were chosen the grand marshals in recognition of the serious work they do to help the community with blood drives, preparing and serving meals at senior centers and throwing a Christmas party every year for special needs children, which the group did again Monday.
“The Solvang Julefest Committee is proud to celebrate this wonderful group that truly reflects this year’s theme of ‘A Danish Tradition,’” said Tracy Farhad, executive director of the Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau, which sponsors Julefest.
“The Vikings embody the tradition of caring for the community year-round, especially those medically vulnerable, and have donated more than $2 million since 1974,” she said. “We gratefully recognize their decades of service.”
Julia Tipolt State Farm Insurance Agency’s Toy Town captured the Best Float Award. The toy-laden float was followed by a host of two-legged and even four-legged elves reminding spectators they had only 23 days left to find toys for all the good little girls and boys on their lists.
The appearance in the 2017 Julefest Parade marked the seventh year for the Toy Town entry.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Mounted Enforcement Unit galloped away with the Best Equestrian Entry Award.
The active law enforcement unit’s home is a new barn and main training facility at the Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Center, but it provides services throughout the county and state.
Although there were numerous classic vehicles in the parade, the Best Vehicle Award went to the 1963 Volkswagen Beetle “Herbie the Love Bug,” entered by the Sherieff family with, appropriately, Mickey Mouse peering from the rear seat.
The VW bears the original paint scheme of the self-aware, anthropomorphic Herbie of the first four of Disney’s six-movie series — light gray paint with red, white and blue racing stripes from front bumper over the top to the rear bumper and a large racing 53 on the doors, front and back — as well as a canvas fold-back sunroof.
The Best Musical Entry Award was bestowed on the Santa Ynez Valley Jazz Band, a group composed of students from nine Valley area schools directed by Kay Dominguez, that played a variety of Christmas favorites in a unique jazzy style.
Rounding out the list of award winners was Paws at Play, which fetched the Best Performance Group Award.
The costumed canines, accompanied by their people, leaped over jumps and through a tire and otherwise went weaving along the route, sniffing out friends and searching for treats.
The volunteer judges picking the winners this year were non-Solvang-area residents Bob Freed, William Morton and Bill Peden.
Winding up the parade of entries were Santa and Mrs. Claus, riding in their sleigh courtesy of the Santa Ynez Valley Rotary Club.
But that wasn’t their last appearance for the day. Following the end of the parade, the couple went to the expanded Santa’s Village in Solvang Park to hear children’s Christmas wishes and pose for photographs.
The two will be back at the park for the next two Saturdays to visit with kids, said Laura Kath, who served as the parade announcer for the 11th year, broadcasting from a booth on Mission Drive near the park.
Julefest events, all of which are free except the Julefest Holiday Wine & Beer Walk Skål Stroll this Saturday and Sunday, will continue through the Christmas Tree Burn set for the evening of Jan. 5 at Old Mission Santa Ynez.
For more information on all the events, stop by the Solvang Visitors Center at 1639 Copenhagen Drive between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily, call the Solvang CVB at 688-6144 or visit www.SolvangUSA.com/julefest.