A brisk winter chill was no match for a traditional holiday kickoff in downtown Billings on Friday night.
With wind chills right around freezing, more than 1,000 people lined the streets for the 24th annual Holiday Parade. Many arrived nearly an hour before the 7 p.m. start time to stake out prime viewing spots.
Parade-goers, many of them children, were bundled up in hats, coats, gloves and scarves to take in the hourlong event. Floats from local businesses, churches and organizations along with engines from area fire departments, a Grinch and Santa Claus wound a lazy loop along Third Avenue North to North 32nd Street and then back east along Second Avenue North.
Kevin and Anne Kooistra-Manning brought their daughters, Lillian and Emily, and Lillian's pal Jessica Carranza to the parade for the first time in years. During the walk to the parade, the girls - little bundles of energy who spent much of the evening bouncing from the curb to the street and back again - sang "I love candy!" in anticipation of treats often tossed from the floats as they motor by.
"We've been away for Thanksgiving most years," Kevin Kooistra-Manning said. "We stayed home this year, and now here we are."
Lillian, 8, said she was most excited about the candy but quickly added that she liked the lights in the parade and was ready "to drink hot cocoa."
And there was plenty of hot cocoa on hand.
Many downtown businesses kept their doors open late to accommodate people at the parade and give them a warm place to wait for it to begin. Some offered free drinks and food.
Tim Fanner owns the Muddy Waters Espresso cart near the intersection of Second Avenue North and North 29th Street and spent the evening serving a line of customers that stretched nearly into the parade route on Second Avenue North. Before the parade even reached his area, he had gone through 20 gallons of hot cocoa, 8 gallons of coffee and quite a bit of espresso. And the line didn't appear to thin when the parade got there.
"We knew we were going to be busy, but oh man," he said. "But it's good for business, all over downtown."
Jacinta Hewitt and her daughter Tierany were part of that line, waiting nearly 30 minutes for a few cups of cocoa. They have been to the parade nearly every year since Tierany, 8, was born, and didn't want to miss it this year either.
"I think it's great," Jacinta Hewitt said. "Everybody gets together and just has a good time without all the hustle and bustle. You go shopping in the morning and then come to the parade at night. It's just a nice little kickoff for the season."