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Near-perfect weather brought about 40,000 spectators downtown for the 36thAnnual Venice Holiday Parade Saturday night. As in previous years, people started putting up chairs on Venice Avenue days before the parade to secure the best viewing spots. New this year among the 3,000 parade marchers were the Big Cat Sanctuary, with live lions and tigers, and the Bat Mobile, Herbie the Love Bug, and Scooby Doo van courtesy of Ideal Classic Cars.

Parade co-chair Sue Hebert watched part of the parade from the judging stage on Venice Avenue and got goosebumps.

“I get emotional when I look down and see what everyone decided to put together and see all the crowds,” says Hebert, who has been in charge of the parade along with her husband for 14 years. Hebert credits a handful of volunteers who work on the parade for months, and about three dozen helpers on parade night. “It’s mass chaos, but it seems to all come together,” she says. The hardest part is staging the floats and the 100 organizations and businesses that begin the parade on Venice Avenue, Hebert says.

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Also participating in the parade this year—the Venice High School Marching Band and the girls volleyball team, fresh from winning the state championship. And of course, the Shriners, driving in circles in their motorbikes and tassel caps—a Venice tradition.

Awards given included Most Enthusiastic (The Circus Arts Conservatory's Sailor Circus), Most Creative (Bowersox Plumbing), Judges' Choice (Sharky's on the Pier, Fins, Snook Haven), Most Unique (Venice Regional Bayfront Hospital), Best Theme (Royal Order of Ponce de Leon Conquistadors), Best Holiday Music (Foundation Church) and the Jingle Bell Youth Award (Miss Venice Fastpitch Softball).

SNN Channel 6 broadcasts the parade live, and Hebert says the event attracts one of the station’s largest audiences.

“It’s amazing that many people want to participate and see it,” Hebert says. “We are lucky to have this in Venice.”

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