Santa, Miss America and a boat parade: Christmas comes to Mystic

Mystic — Santa showed up in fashion on Saturday, riding into town on a tugboat.

He arrived without Mrs. Claus, but with a different icon: Miss America. The 2019 pageant winner Nia Franklin was this year's special guest for Mystic's annual Holiday Lighted Boat Parade.

The event began with Santa's entrance, exiting the boat onto the Mystic River Park green and making his way through the parting crowd while waving and wearing a warm smile. Later in the evening, Santa and Franklin lit the Christmas tree and joined thousands of people watching the festive boats float by.

In the afternoon, children and parents waited in line in the park for a chance to tell Santa their Christmas wishes and to take pictures with Franklin.

Rarely does Miss America play second fiddle, but Santa was the kids' priority. Jen Allanach from Pawcatuck was there with her son and daughter. The son asked for a dragon, a real one; the daughter asked for a dog, a Fitbit and a dragon of her own. Ambitious, to be sure.

"Santa said it would probably have to be mom and dad helping with taking care of the dragons," Allanach said. She, like other attendees, has come back for many consecutive years to be a part of the merriment.

Santa's presence attracted a long and determined line to see him, as well as vendors surrounding the area. Kids played football or tag or roughhoused, running around the soon-to-be-lit Christmas tree, and parents tried to keep them under control.

Margaret Kennedy of Massachusetts was in town for her third year in a row to visit her sister and bring her daughter along to see Santa. She said she'd been waiting in line for 15 minutes, and it eventually took 30 minutes to get to the jolly, bearded man, but her daughter didn't care — she said she would've been willing to wait at least two hours, "or until we freeze," mom added.

Mystic Chamber of Commerce Event Manager Kearney Worthington helped look after Franklin and Santa. She said having Miss America along — or any guest, for that matter — was unusual for the event.

Franklin's schedule, and the proactivity of the chamber, allowed for her to be in Mystic. She'd been in New York, her home state, on Thursday to participate in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and she returns to Connecticut in mid-December to be present at and crown the winner of the Miss America 2020 competition at Mohegan Sun.

About 6 p.m., Franklin and Santa returned to Mystic River Park after a break to light the Christmas tree and lead the public in the singing of a Christmas carol.

Before singing "Jingle Bells" to much fanfare — Franklin has a master's degree in music composition from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts — Franklin said this was her first time in Mystic, and she was charmed.

"This town reminds me of a Hallmark movie, and I'm pretty sure several were made here," she said.

Despite a couple false starts while attempting to light the tree, the lights soon shone, and it was time for the highlight of the night, the reason people lined the streets and peered out of windows in downtown Mystic: boats.

Authorities had to clear dozens of people from the Mystic River Bascule Bridge before the boats came, so that the bridge could open.

People held private parties in homes along the water, walked out to the ends of docks, crowded sidewalks and boardwalks on both sides of the river, to witness the spectacle. Massive, small and mid-sized boats, sailboats, motorboats, yachts, tugboats, speed boats and others, all with eye-catching decorations, floated past. Some had blinking lights, others had flashing; some lights were simple and classic with gold and yellow and green, others were intricate and twisted over every inch of a vessel.

For the parade, traffic stopped, people watched and Mystic welcomed the Christmas season on the last day of November.

s.spinella@theday.com

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