BEVERLY — The weather may have been cold and gray — appropriate for the first day of December — but the spirit of the crowds that lined Cabot Street for the annual Santa Parade was anything but.

Trusting to forecasts that a threatened mixture of rain and snow would hold off until late afternoon, the hundreds of people of all ages lining the street chatted, laughed and strolled back and forth to keep warm.

The distant howl of sirens from the contingent of fire departments that led the parade made it clear that the parade was on its way.

Ready and waiting for the inevitable sirens was Jason Bitler, 3, of Hamilton, already insulated from the coming sound blast in a pair of seemingly giant ear-protectors.

Jason was accompanied by his grandparents Bob and Debby Blanchard of Beverly, who were there to see his mother and their daughter, the current Mrs. Essex County Laura Bitler, in the parade.

One of their favorite parts of the parade, said Debby Blanchard, pointing to a good-size bag of groceries, was when a team of volunteers from the First Baptist Church came by collecting donations of food for the hungry. Jason said he was waiting to put in a BIG box of mac and cheese they had brought.

Patricia and Armand Devoe of Beverly, said they had been attending Santa Parades, since their children were small — at least 30 years. They said they were there today with granddaughter Emma Grace 13, who was marching and dancing in the parade with a group from the North Shore Dance Academy.

Michael and Kimberly Hildebrandt, there with young son and daughter, Walter and Aubrey, were originally from Connecticut, they said. Now 15-year Beverly residents, they said they always enjoyed the Christmas Parade. “It sets the tone for the season,” Michael Hildebrandt said.

The first marching group was a troupe of dancers from the Chiampa Dance Center in Lynnfield, all stylishly attired in black, gray and pink outfits.

Marching bands included the Salem High School Marching Band and Flag Team; the Danvers High Falcons Marching Band, all dressed in individual Christmas sweaters and playing a rousing Jingle Bells; and the Beverly High Panthers Marching Band.

Along the way were Clowns from “Clowning for Kids,” an inflated Santa and his elves delivering presents from an inflated helicopter; mail carriers handing out candy to the kids, from their mailbags; a group of costumed colonial militiamen from Historic Beverly; several friendly-looking dinosaurs, the Grinch driving a public works truck, and representatives from many other Beverly and North Shore Organizations.

Wrapping up the parade was Santa Claus, riding in a white four-wheeled carriage drawn by four magnificent draft horses.

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