Santa Claus waved to the crowds as he headed down the parade route in last year’s parade. By Donald WittkowskiHe didn’t slide down the chimney or fly in on a sleigh pulled by his team of reindeer led by Rudolph’s shiny red nose.But Santa Claus nonetheless made a dramatic grand entrance Friday night at the Ocean City Christmas Parade in the heart of downtown.Resplendent in his flowing white beard and plush red suit, he glided down Asbury Avenue in a horse-drawn carriage amid the gleeful shouts of “Santa” and “Merry Christmas” from an adoring crowd of thousands of spectators lining the sidewalks.Some little boys and girls, accompanied by their parents, ran up to touch Santa, no doubt cementing a childhood memory that will remain with them for a lifetime.Beth Kukorlo, of Egg Harbor Township, enjoys the parade with her children John, 4, and Matisyn, 7.Brother and sister John and Matisyn Kukorlo patiently waited for Santa from their vantage point on Asbury Avenue along the parade route between Sixth and 11th streets. Both of them were attired in Christmas costumes, including Rudolph-like red roses that glowed in the dark.“Santa said I was good last night. I was a good boy,” John blurted out, drawing laughs from his mother, Beth Kukorlo, of Egg Harbor Township.The 4-year-old John said he would ask Santa to bring him a dinosaur, a castle and some Legos on Christmas morning. Matisyn, 7, said she wanted a baby doll and a Hatchimals egg.“Well, you’ve got to be good, though,” Kurkorlo reminded her children.Christmas toys were also on the mind of 3-year-old Nathan Gabriel of Ocean City as he watched the parade unfold from a bench on Asbury Avenue. “I want a Batcave set from Batman,” he said.Nathan’s mother, Katie Gabriel, joked that Santa would be busy this Christmas making a special delivery from the North Pole to her son.In addition to her son, Gabriel was joined by her sister-in-law, Hanna, 11, and the children’s aunt, Dawn Weber, of Ocean City. Hanna said she hoped Santa would bring a laptop for her.During the parade, Gabriel and Weber were upholding a family tradition dating back four or five generations. They explained that their family has sat in the same bench on the 700 block of Asbury Avenue for all of Ocean City’s holiday parades.Weber said her mother, Joyce Trofa, started the tradition in the belief that if the family didn’t arrive early for the parades and grab the same bench, then there would be nowhere else to sit.“She thought there would always be a ton of people and that they would sit in her bench,” Weber said, emphasizing the word “her.”Colorful holiday-themed floats were a centerpiece of the parade.Mayor Jay Gillian said he often sees the same families at all of the holiday parades, standing or sitting in their favorite spot. He noted that the Christmas parade is yet another way that Ocean City adds to its reputation as a family-friendly town.“We’re a family-tradition town,” Gillian said. “People keep coming back every year. Family traditions are what Ocean City is all about.”The mayor rode in a black convertible at the head of the parade when it got underway at 6:30 p.m. at the corner of Sixth Street and Asbury Avenue. A colorful procession of marching bands, floats, cartoon characters, costumed dogs and fire trucks trimmed in Christmas lights entertained the crowds. Even the Grinch was in a festive mood, waving to the crowds while sitting atop a fire truck.The parade emcee was recording artist Julia Rae, an Ocean City resident and former Miss Philadelphia whose record “Be That Girl” is the theme song for the movie “The Greening of Whitney Brown.”Closing out the parade was Santa, who arrived majestically in an open carriage pulled by a burly white horse. He waved enthusiastically to the crowds, greeting them with a hearty “Merry Christmas!”The spectators, especially the children, erupted in cheers.A big white horse pulled Santa down Asbury Avenue in a carriage.