Photo By PAULA MULLER
Left, Janet Melanson (Mrs. Claus) tries on the outfit she wears in the Lynn Christmas Parade on Christmas Eve. She is being helped by her friend Charleen Kennedy.
By MICHELE DURGIN
LYNN — Janet Melanson was watching the first annual Christmas Eve parade 29 years ago when she spotted an obvious problem and vowed to solve it.
“I noticed that the crowd, which stands on both sides of the street, was waving to Santa. He was having a hard time waving back to both sides as the float moved along. I mentioned it to (the late parade organizer) Richie Viger and, lo and behold, the very next year Mrs. Claus was atop the float, next to Santa and between the two of us both sides of the street were covered,” Melanson said.
The parade winds around the city for about five hours on Thursday evening to the delight of thousands of local families and other spectators. Santa Claus is the parade centerpiece, but Mrs. Claus — Melanson — is right there beside him.
“I look forward to this night every year and still choke up when I see children’s smiling faces and so many families out together,” she said.
Melanson is a testament to how the parade is rooted in local residents who take pride in participating in it. Viger and John Walsh brought it to life with the help of others and Walsh’ son, City Councilor-elect Jay Walsh, has played an organizing role in recent years.
Walsh is adamant about keeping the event as close to his father’s and Viger’s vision as possible. “It wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the time and effort of all of the people working behind the scenes. And that’s been true since the beginning,” he said, adding, “This year is exciting because we are adding a couple of new floats bringing the total number of vehicles to 80. One of the new floats is really beautiful and was built by Trahant Roofing Company. It is a Victorian-era white gazebo and carolers dressed in costumes from that era will be on it.”
Melanson said the parade’s giving spirit extends beyond Christmas Eve.
“Just last Tuesday, John and Laurie Walsh, Tom Laramie, Jay and I hopped on the Santa truck and visited a sick woman in Lynn. She is also the mom of four young children, and we were happy to bring along gifts for all of them. These gifts were purchased behind the scenes by generous and wonderful people , and it was a great feeling knowing that we brought a little joy to their lives,” she said.
A little known fact is that there was a six-year period, many years ago, when Mrs. Claus was played by Charlene Kennedy. Melanson, never far from the festivities, had moved from atop the float and was behind the wheel driving it through Lynn.
Two years ago Jay Walsh gave the float a much needed makeover, including new lights and updated decorations. It turned out beautifully and was officially dedicated to Richie Viger, who died in 2013.
“My goal is to keep this parade alive to honor Richie,” Melanson said.