Boy Scouts commemorating the Revolutionary War paraded through flag-lined Lexington Center, wearing tricorn hats and marching in high step to the rat-a-tat-tat of a middle school band. Girl Scouts, their merit badges on full display, struggled to hold American flags much taller than they.
Hours later in Boston, thousands lining the Marathon route rang cowbells, clashing with rock music spilling from bars. The heady aroma of fried dough and burgers on grills wafted over the crowds, which cheered ever louder when it seemed their shouts motivated a dog-tired runner to stop walking and start racing again.
Every year, Patriots Day holds the promise of a brief respite from work and a chance to revel in two of the area's most cherished pastimes, honoring history and soaking in sports. It doesn't always work out that way. Last year, it was raining and the crowds at both events were thin, their spirits dampened. Not this year.
Lured by the azure skies and bright sunshine, multitudes gathered from Fenway Park to the Old North Bridge, from Hopkinton to Copley Square, and joyously embraced the collective spirit and deeply held traditions of the quaint, quirky, quintessentially New England holiday.
"It's like a refined Mardi Gras," said Kathy Noonan of Wilmington, Del., who was packed in with the cheering crowds on Boylston Street, waiting for her son, Michael Jr., 28, who was running his first Boston. "Everybody is just out to party and celebrate, and the weather is perfect."
Lynn and Wayne Lewin and their grandson, Jeremy, 9, were all wearing matching T-shirts that declared, "I'm Cheering for Andy. He's A Wicked Awesome Runnah!" Andy, 39, is their son, Jeremy's father. So, was mom nervous?
"You don't even want to know - terrible nerves," Lynn Lewin said, as she clutched a cowbell and a cellphone and waited for her son to run by on Boylston Street. "I woke up at 3 a.m. and started praying for him."
Arthur and Laura Forte came from Philadelphia to cheer on their daughter, Marissa Crocco, 39, who was also running her first Boston. But Laura Forte said she was just as moved by the other racers, particularly those in the wheelchair division.
"It's overwhelmingly incredible to see all these people," she said. "Tears are coming out of my eyes to realize what they've accomplished. It makes you realize that if there's something you want to do, find the courage to do it."
Tom Lynch, 46, of Sandwich, was on Commonwealth Avenue, holding a sign that read "Support Our Troops" on one side and "We Remember Those Who Serve. Go Steve," on the other. He was waiting for his brother, Steve, 48, who was running in honor of his son, Daniel, who is 20 and serving with the 173d Airborne Division in Afghanistan.
A friend who was clutching a laptop computer checked Steve Lynch's time on the Boston Athletic Association website and announced that he was 3 miles away. About 25 minutes later, at 1:30 p.m., Steve cruised into view, gave his brother a quick hug, and ran off to the finish line. He was holding the flag of the 173d airborne division and wearing a shirt with a hand-scrawled message: "Gratitude . . . To Danny and the 173d Airborne Division."
"It's tough anyway to run the marathon with the physical and mental baggage," Tom Lynch said. "But then, to do it in honor of someone is pretty amazing."
The day started at 8 a.m. in Lexington, when musket fire punctuated the end of the national anthem and the US flag was raised high above the hallowed green. Watching from a park bench, Barbara Bell, 63, of Stow, was taking in as much of the weekend's historical offerings as she could. On Saturday, she woke up early to watch the reenactment at Concord's Old North Bridge, and yesterday she was back for more.
"There aren't many opportunities to go back in time like this," said Dan Olsen of Arlington, who smiled as he snapped a picture of daughters Alma, 7, and Naomi, 3.
Less than 90 minutes later, the sound of gunfire erupted again, this time from a starter's pistol in Hopkinton, where the wheelchair racers were first off the line.
The runners found the fans packed thickly along much of the course, particularly in notorious spots like Heartbreak Hill in Newton, which was dotted with tents, beach chairs, coolers, and grills.
"I grew up watching the race from this spot," said Josh McGuire, 34, his 21-month-old twins, Andy and Sam, in tow. "Cheering them from here does them the most good."
To be sure, not everyone was focused on the race. Many college students used the marathon as inspiration for a daylong party, hauling out barbecues and beaded necklaces for the occasion.
"Heartbreak's the place to be," whooped Tim McLaughlin, a 19-year-old Boston College freshman from Long Island.
Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com.