Annual Santa Claus parade held in Vancouver on December 3, 2017. The parade is the largest Christmas parade celebrated in Western Canada with about 2,000 marching participants and 42 floats perform on streets that attracted around 300,000 spectators to see. (Xinhua Photo/Liang Sen)
by Evan Duggan
VANCOUVER, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- Approximately 300,000 people gathered in downtown Vancouver on Sunday afternoon for the city's 14th annual Santa Claus Parade.
The parade has become the unofficial launch to the Christmas season here in the West Coast Canadian city.
The parade marches its way around the downtown core, with roughly 3,500 participants, including 50 marching bands, choirs, dancers, community groups - and Santa Claus, of course.
Before the parade, hundreds gathered around a massive Christmas tree in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery at a Christmas festival waiting for Santa to arrive in the parade.
Among them were Vancouver resident Joe and his two sons, Aidan and Eason, who sat down at a Canada Post tent set up for kids to write letters to Santa Claus.
"We saw it on the internet that there was a parade going on," Joe told Xinhua. "It's our first time ever."
He said his kids were eager to add their letters to Santa to the post and to get a glimpse of Santa Claus.
"It's bringing the family together," he said.
Canada Post worker Fred Danelles stood by, inviting children to write their letters, which the youngsters would then slip into a small, red Canada Post box.
Danelles told Xinhua that Canada Post handles about 1.5 million letters to Santa from kids in Canada and around the world, each year.
"He answers each and every one," Danelles said. "He gets his mail through Canada Post."
Canada Post's Santa letter program has been around for more than 35 years, and has responded to 26 million letters in more than 30 languages, including Braille.
"All the mail in the world of course has to come to Canada Post, and we get his mail and when he answers the letters each and every one is replied to," Danelles said. "We get Canada Post to deliver his letters back to all the children."
He said they were expecting kids to write and post about 450 letters at the parade on Sunday.
Along the parade route, thousands of people hoisted children up on shoulders, getting a glimpse of the marching bands, dancers and a Grinch in a Vancouver Police Department cage. The biggest cheer came for Santa Claus himself, who brought up the rear of the parade.
Dozens of red and white Santa hats could be seen as the parade marched past along Vancouver's Howe Street.
The Greater Vancouver Food Bank leads the parade each year with a float and a donation campaign.
"I would say (the parade) is the official kick-off of the fundraising season in December," said Aart Schuurman Hess, a spokesman for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. "This weekend is huge... it creates the awareness. Hunger is around 365 days a year."
He said for every dollar the food bank raises through donations, three dollars can be spent on healthy food for local families in need.
"I love those smiling kids along the parade route because it's all about community," he said.
"This is a very important community event," he said. "You can see the entire community coming out and for us to be part of the Santa Claus Parade is a big thing. It creates awareness."