By Mike Ferguson
THE LEDGER
Published: Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 2:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 11:04 p.m.
LAKELAND | There wasn’t much room for any winter wonderland walking in downtown Lakeland Thursday night as tens of thousands came from across Polk County to get a glimpse of Lakeland’s 34th annual Christmas parade, co-sponsored by the city and the Junior League of Greater Lakeland.

Lakeland Christmas Parade
About 120 floats entered the parade that featured lights, high school marching bands, belly dancers, fireworks and even Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Judd may be one of the area’s more recognizable figures, but the man who most in the crowd were hoping to see Thursday night had a long white beard and was draped in red.

“We want to see Santa,” said Michelle Ferguson, who came from Dover to see the parade with her husband, Tom, and 14-month-old granddaughter, Lyla.

“I’m going to say ‘hi’ to Santa,” said 4-year-old Reginald Green, of Winter Haven, who sat on top of his parents’ SUV with 6-year-old Raelyn Walker.

Gary and Diana Wilhite were there to support their son, Jonathan, a junior in JROTC at Kathleen High School marching in the parade for the third straight year.

“Hopefully, he doesn’t have to march behind the horses,” Gary Wilhite joked. “It looks like a good crowd, the weather is great and you couldn’t ask for a better night.”

Mookey Barrett of Auburndale was taking in his first Lakeland Christmas parade with his wife and son Trey. Barrett said he’d been to the Havendale Christmas parade, but the attendance did not compare.

“This is my first time, it’s amazing to see all these people here at one time,” he said.

Lauren Markowitz, 54, of Lakeland was there for a second straight year. Markowitz said she and her family moved here from Pennsylvania last year and really like the weather “It’s nice to be able to enjoy a Christmas parade without having to wear a coat,” she said, as the temperature hovered just below 70 degrees.

Suzanne Skinner, a fourth-grade teacher at Roberts Academy in Lakeland, said she’s been to the parade every year since moving to Lakeland from North Carolina 14 years ago.

“I like it because it has the small town feel to it,” Skinner said. “You have different parts of Lakeland that put it on and it’s just kind of a homegrown atmosphere.”

Ramona Davis, 64, of Lakeland said she’s been coming for even longer.

“I like the floats, the bands, all of it,” Davis said. “I’m still enjoying the parade.”

There were rumors of gunshots in the area during the parade, but Lakeland police said they could find no shooter nor victims.

WINNERS: Chick-fil-A (Judges’ Choice), Allen & Company (Best Pro Float), Southeastern University (Most Outstanding Band), Medulla Baptist Church (Best Theme Float), Family Martial Arts Center (Most Original), McKeel Academy Central (Best Youth/Educational Float), Amingos 4H (Best Community Float), Agnini Family Dental (Best Business Float).