Nearly 100 of the participants gathered for a group photo that stopped traffic in front of the Gulfport Casino Ballroom, 5500 Shore Blvd.
he notice went out on Facebook for a Saturday, December 14 inaugural gathering called the “Gulfport Santa Rampage” and organizer Lesley Smith hoped it would be something of interest to at least a few people – mostly, her friends.
“Grab your best Santa costume and your Christmas spirit,” said the social media announcement. “Get your Creative Claus on and get ready to elf things up as we take over the town and paint it red.”
The official 5:30 p.m. gathering spot at Isabelle’s, 2937 Beach Blvd., was so crowded that it was difficult for local documentary photographers to take photos.
“I thought it was going to be 20 to 30 people,” said Smith. “This is amazing and exciting. It’s a citywide party!”
To include the energetic crowd of nearly 100 in the 6 p.m. commemorative group photo at the Gulfport Casino Ballroom, 5500 Shore Blvd., photographers with wide-angle lenses had to stand back into the street intersection while stopping traffic.
Afterward, the party continued into the night starting with the annual Boca Ciega Yacht Club’s Lighted Boat Parade that began at about 6:30 p.m.
“I like how everybody in Gulfport is free to be whoever they want to be,” said participant Beth Stombaugh who was on her way to nearby Williams Pier to find a good vantage point for the parade.
“Disco” Dave Falwell was dressed in one of the crowd’s favorite costumes – a Christmas tree. “I was hoping for lots of gifts from Santa to be put around me that I can give away,” he said.
Jon Ziegler dressed as Elvis Santa, a crowd favorite, also entertained by doing voice impersonations of “the King” that included a cappella portions of holiday rock-and-roll songs. “You’ll be doing alright in your Christmas of white,” he crooned from Presley’s “Blue Christmas” into his special microphone. When asked what inspired his custom-sewn costume, Ziegler joked, “I didn’t realize they said ‘elves,’ I thought they said ‘Elvis!’”
Beth Stombaugh created a head-to-toe costume that included a Santa hat, themed earrings that she made, holiday lights for herself and her wheelchair along with an elf that rode on the footrest. “I like how everybody in Gulfport is free to be whoever they want to be,” she said.