Children sang, college students sipped hot chocolate and parents pointed at glowing boats Friday night at the Lighted Boat Parade near Ross's Landing.
Although Chattanooga Presents' Grand Illumination was renamed the Lighted Boat Parade and lost its fireworks and a fireball-slinging Santa Claus, thousands of people still came to the Tennessee River to sing carols and watch boats.
Lance Muir has lived in McMinn County for all 35 years he's been alive, but he's never been able to make it to the parade.
This year, his wife's cousin B.J. Frame came down from Lebanon, Ohio, with his wife and three kids for Thanksgiving.
Ava Frame, 3, decided that it would be best for the family to check out the parade. So after Black Friday shopping until 4 in the morning, sleeping, then waking up and riding ATVs in Apison, Frame and Muir rounded up their families and drove downtown.
"This was awesome," Muir announced, proclaiming that the canoeing Santas were his favorites in the parade.
The night was filled with Santas of every variety: singing Santas, dancing Santas, waving Santas and even a long-boarding Santa.
Solomon Xiao, a 21-year-old student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said that he's struck by the togetherness that the holidays bring. In China, where he's from, he didn't celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving, but he came down to Chattanooga to celebrate Thanksgiving with a fellow student and ended up coming to the Lighted Boat Parade as well.
"I love this national holiday," he said. "Everybody comes together and celebrates the holiday together, holding candles and singing together."
Chuck Johnson drove from Atlanta with his wife, Lynn, and three boys to Chattanooga for the third time this year for Thanksgiving and Friday night's parade. He said he misses the fireball-flinging Santa, but still, no boat compares to the Tiki Tender, which featured a lightshow, a waving Santa and four dancing women.
After the boats finished parading, a singing Santa announced the lighting of the big Christmas tree on Ross's Landing as the official beginning to the Christmas season.
As Santa sang "We Wish You A Merry Christmas," Ava Frame and her mom danced before leaving.