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Santa brings Christmas downtown for the Parade of Lights

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Santa paid a visit to downtown Missoula on Saturday before the annual Parade of Lights, where hundreds of children and their parents lined up for a chance to convince Saint Nick they had been good this past year.

The old Florence Hotel lobby was decked out with a 30-foot Christmas tree, Mrs. Claus and an orchestra of up-and-coming guitarists from Childbloom Guitar Program.

Some youngsters were excited for an opportunity to ask for that one present they’ve been dreaming about, like 8-year-old Autumn Miller, who asked for the American Girl Doll ice cream truck she has been wanting for the last month.

Reina Wolfe, 2, was a bit more skeptical of the red suit and the big white beard, and couldn’t help but cry while on his lap.

From up on the second floor of the Florence lobby, Nathan Zavalney led an ensemble of around 30 classical guitarists from Childbloom Guitar. The kids making up the ensemble were between 5 and 12 years old, and finger-picked Christmas carols while swapping out with each other for a chance to chat with Santa.

On the other side of the river, kids and adults zig-zagged between the clothing racks at Betty’s Divine for a chance to take a picture with a different holiday hero. Jethro, the shop’s infamously plump orange cat, lay scowling on a red and green plaid chair as people crowded around him for a picture with “Jolly Ol’ St. Jethro.”

Quinn and Macy McQuilkin, 16 and 12, snapped shots on a Polaroid for $1 donations to the Humane Society of Western Montana. They also were generous in feeding Jethro plenty of treats to keep him sedated for the throngs of people waiting to see him.

Other holiday-themed events took place across downtown in celebration of the 15th annual Parade of Lights. Horse-drawn carriages from Paws Up took people for rides around downtown, and a slew of businesses hosted ornament making parties.

The evening parade marched up Higgins Avenue to the red XXXX’s for the lighting of the Downtown Holiday Tree. Bonfires and free hot cocoa kept onlookers warm while the Christian Life Center choir sang carols at Circle Square.

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