Chilly temperatures and steady rain did little to dampen holiday spirits Friday night in downtown Beaufort.
Protecting their Santa Claus hats with umbrellas and hoods, hundreds flocked to Bay Street for the city's annual "A Night on the Town" celebration. The event, in its 24th year, kicks off a weekend of holiday events which include the "Light up the Night" boat parade tonight and the traditional holiday parade Sunday morning.
Initially conceived as a one-night, invitation-only event for downtown merchants to show their appreciation to longtime patrons, the event has morphed in recent years into a giant street party. With stages at either end of Bay Street, shoppers wove in and out of downtown businesses, checking out the shops for Christmas gifts and other holiday finds.
Nan Sutton, owner of Lulu Burgess, said she and her store's staff always look forward to the event, when shoppers standing shoulder-to-shoulder pack her store.
"We love it. All of the community comes down. The store is packed. It's a two-hour fun-filled event," Sutton said.
Organized by Main Street Beaufort, USA, "A Night on the Town" is designed to put a spotlight on downtown businesses, said LaNelle Fabian, the group's executive director.
"(A Night on the Town) really puts our downtown businesses front and center and exposes them to thousands of people," Fabian said. "It really should be a big night for some of our local merchants."
Friday night's events included performances by local choirs and dance troupes, a fire safety demonstration on Port Republic Street by the Beaufort Fire Department and pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus in the Old Bay Marketplace.
Umbrellas held high, Steve Williams of Beaufort and daughter Sarah strolled down a closed-off Bay Street seemingly unaware of the rain that kept so many of their fellow revelers huddled beneath the awnings of downtown storefronts.
"What's a little rain?" Steve Williams asked. "It's Christmas for crying out loud. We debated on whether to come but we figured, if nothing else, we've earned ourselves a few mugs of hot cocoa when we get home."
The event culminated with Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling and The Claus' flipping the switch on the city's Christmas tree on Freedom Mall near Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.
Now the town's spirit can be seen from afar.