WATERVILLE — The Parade of Lights is the official beginning of the holiday season for Jennie Patterson.

Patterson, 60, of Burnham, has attended the parade for more than 20 of its 44 years, taking her children when they were young. Now with families of their own, her family and friends who have moved away come back for the parade each year.

“I think it’s a nice tradition,” Patterson said, adding that her granddaughter Lyndsie Pelotte was in the parade representing Stage Presence for Dancers, of Winslow. “It’s the old way of enjoying things with the lighting of the tree and singing Christmas carols. It’s not about shopping and gifts and that stuff.”

Gloves, hats, mittens and blankets were in abundance on Main Street, as thousands of people packed the downtown sidewalks, refusing to let the frigid air stop them. Despite temperatures in the teens when the parade started, viewers kept warm with hot chocolate, coffee or holiday enthusiasm.

Patterson’s holiday weekend was planned around the parade, with family and friends driving up from Yarmouth and Boston to attend.

“I don’t do Black Friday shopping — this is it for me. I gear up for this,” she said, adding that she was expecting about a dozen family members to meet her there. “We left the house by 4 to save a spot. There’s a lot of memories for me with this parade.”

Unlike years past, when visits with Santa Claus would take place outside on Castonguay Square, the new Kringleville area is inside a store at The Center. The change eliminated the need for children and parents to wait in the cold to see Santa. Instead, there’s a waiting room in the Kringleville area, where children can make paper snowflakes and color while they wait to see Santa. The storefront is decorated like a Christmas wonderland, with lights twinkling throughout, multiple Christmas trees and dozens of ornaments.

“The people shopping on Main Street will be able to see such a nice visual through the season,” Patterson said of the new Kringleville.

The parade lasted about 45 minutes and had more than 100 participants, including representatives from Waterville police and fire departments, United Way Mid-Maine, day care centers and construction companies.

With more than 30 floats in this year’s parade, it was the largest one to date, according to Jennifer Olsen, executive director of Waterville Main Street, which organizes the parade.

Various businesses, including Selah Tea and Jorgensen’s Cafe, stayed open until 9:00 p.m. to sell hot chocolate, coffee and baked good for viewers.

Both Santa and Mrs. Claus will be available for pictures with children throughout December.

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239[email protected]Twitter: @jessescardina