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Charlotte’s parade Santa: How could you not love this?

Up to 100,000 people will gather along South Tryon Street on Thursday morning to celebrate the “official” start of the Christmas season with the Novant Health Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the star of the show says it never stops being fun for him.

“I love it,” said Santa Claus, who will have his customary seat in the final float of Charlotte’s parade, which begins at 9:30 a.m. at South Tryon and Stonewall streets.

“How could you not love doing this?” asked the man who sometimes goes by the name of Jac Grimes and has been known to hang out in the High Point area when he’s not busy at the North Pole.

The parade, featuring live music acts this year, along with 14 marching bands and 25 giant balloons, is in its 68th year. Charlotte’s iconic Thanksgiving event nearly died last year due to a lack of sponsorship, but a group headed by Charlotte Center City Partners stepped forward, landed primary sponsorship from Novant Health, and kept it going.

“We thought we might lose it last year,” said Robert Krumbine, the parade director. “But a lot of people stepped forward and put in a lot of work at the last minute. Now we’ve had a whole year to prepare.”

Santa said he’s been preparing for Charlotte’s parade, too.

“It’s a great event,” he said. “It draws a huge crowd, and I have to do a lot of waving.”

He visited the parade’s headquarters – a warehouse off Remount Road in southwest Charlotte – one day recently to check on preparations.

Dressed in black pants, a red shirt, suspenders, and a Christmas tie – “Business casual for me,” he said – he is in character throughout the year. He handed out a business card, designed as a N.C. driver’s permit stamped with the words “Commercial Sleigh License.” The license lists Santa as a “Toy Donor” and says he is restricted to driving with nine reindeer.

“I’m a fat guy with a beard,” he said. “I interact with kids all year long. I never get tired of it.”

Parade officials are reminding spectators that the route has been reversed this year and will move from south to north. They said Charlotte’s Thanksgiving parade followed that route in its early years and noted that the route sometimes included what is now the South End district. Parking will be available at a number of decks and surface lots, especially on the east side of Tryon Street.