David Feng, a medical professor from Hangzhou, China, watched the Rose Parade on television for 20 years. But on Friday he stood along the Pasadena parade route for the first time and snapped shots of riders' expressions and floats decorated with flower petals.
Jane Rohrs, an acupuncturist from North Tustin, brought Feng to the event and said other friends from Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan and Guangzhou also attended the parade.
"It has become an international celebration," she said.
"It is a dream come true for me to be here," said Feng, now relocated to Fullerton.
Some attending the parade expressed trepidation because of the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Most, however, seemed to have put any concerns on hold.
"You can't keep millions of people away from a tradition," said Rohrs' husband, Chris Rohrs, a music coordinator at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Santa Ana.
The overall mood was buoyant.
Before sunrise, a man yelled at sleeping campers — something about Jesus and repentance.
"Jesus would let us sleep," a woman yelled back.
The opening float, Honda's "Nature's Hope," featured scenes from national parks in the U.S. and Japan. Susan Piper posed for her husband in front of the 120-foot-long, 24-foot-high float's menacing grizzly bear, made eerie by the early morning darkness.
"I wanted to get up close," Piper said. "So this is perfect."
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich wore his Tournament of Roses-issued white suit to greet parade goers and show them to their seats in the grandstands.
"This is a wonderful tradition," said Antonovich, who said he's been associated with the parade group for 35 years.
Donaly Marquez was among the princesses who rode on a rose-covered float with the Rose Queen. As a child, Marquez had been taken by authorities from her mother, whom she described as an abusive drug addict. She and her siblings spent time in a group home and foster care before being adopted 11 years ago.
During the run-up of almost 100 events leading up to the parade, Marquez, 17, had told girls at a child welfare agency, "It doesn't matter where you come from, you can do anything as long as you set your mind to it."
Up in the commentators booth, Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards narrated their final Rose Parade. They are retiring after more than 30 years of describing the magic of celery seeds and white coconut sparkles, and explaining to national audiences the charms of "really neat" towns like Sierra Madre and Glendale.
Down in the crowd, Jose Vasquez was also broadcasting, with a laptop, a Wi-Fi hot spot and microphone. A Costa Mesa resident, Vasquez said he describes parade highlights in Spanish to listeners of Radio Adventist Los Angeles each year.
"They love this stuff" Vasquez said. "They may be far away or may be near. Traffic shouldn't prevent them from hearing how we start the New Year."
Eddie Lovell, 53, a Los Angeles County worker from Azusa, stoked a big fire in a pit he had fashioned from the barrel of a washing machine.
Lovell said he has been coming to the parade for 22 years. He said his daughter Taylor, 15, experienced the parade for the first time five days before she was born, courtesy of her pregnant mother.
This year, Lovell said, there are definitely "more police and less people."
Nichole Scales said she and her husband, Corey, and their son Daniel were inspired by the hopeful atmosphere.
"The weather is perfect, everyone is so cheerful," Nichole said. "It's a perfect day for the family, especially after we've had so much terror."
Daniel, 9, especially liked the presidents' faces towering over him on a Mount Rushmore float. "It's really cool," he said.
Laker fans may be having a bad year, but on the NBA team's float the Laker Girls danced and cheered exuberantly. Katy Oestreich, 34, came down from the stands where she had been sitting with friends and fellow Iowa fans and danced along.
"I want to share my energy with them if they're sharing it with all of us," Oestreich said. "Sitting up by a tree wasn't going to work for me."
By the parade's end, people were peeling off their puffy jackets as a Miracle Gro float passed, blaring: "Here comes the sun."
With the Iowa caucuses only a month away, presidential politics also barged in on the festivities.
Dozens of supporters of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders followed the floats carrying a papier mache likeness of the Vermont senator and shouting, "Feel the Bern!"
Overhead, a small plane filled the sky with white puffs of smoke. First the skywriter spelled out "America is great." Then "Trump is disgusting."
Before the parade began, a car struck a woman running in a group on Colorado Boulevard and knocked her unconscious. She was taken to the hospital with a head injury and was described as stable, according to Pasadena police Lt. Kelly Evans.
The driver, Yuki Horne, 40, of Los Angeles was arrested on suspicion of felony drunk driving, Evans said.
Times staff writers Richard Winton and Mary McNamara contributed to this report.