Pat Ercole remembers when her great-uncle Joe would visit the family home in Broomall, and give her five brothers haircuts.

And when Joe O'Flynn was done with the boys, he would cut the girls' hair. Pixie bowl cuts that always left her and her three sisters in tears, Ercole said.

Nevertheless, Uncle Joe, who himself sported a considerable puff of white hair, was "the most jovial little leprechaun," she said.

Uncle Joe, who never married, would invite his nieces and nephews to his house on 20th and Cherry Streets every Thanksgiving to watch the parade, said Ercole, a 58-year-old physical therapist from Media. Afterward, the family, sometimes numbering nearly 100 members, would pile into his house for hot dogs, sauerkraut, and soda.

And thus was born a tradition that has lasted more than half a century.

Though Uncle Joe died 22 years ago, the annual gathering of the Hunt and O'Flynn families to take in the nation's oldest Thanksgiving Day parade continues to this day.

This year, the difference is that 24 members of the family will be part of the parade, now known as the 6ABC Dunkin' Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Ercole and company will be balloon handlers. They'll be guiding Daniel Tiger, the main character from the PBS children's show Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Initially excited, the family became nervous after a frustrating training session Nov. 7 in 6ABC's parking lot.

"I thought they were going to give us something on wheels because we were so bad at practice," Ercole said.

Charles Hunt, 46, one of Ercole's brothers, called their performance during practice "pathetic."

Still, Ercole believes guiding Daniel Tiger will be a milestone in the family's long association with the parade.

"We were so excited because we felt we came full circle. Now we're part of the parade," said Ercole, who attended her first parade when she was 5 and hasn't missed one since.

Another brother, Jay Hunt, 55, fondly recalled a time when he and his eight siblings and their parents would travel into the city from Delaware County. Ostensibly, it was "just about meeting family members."

But in reality, Jay Hunt said, "it was all about Uncle Joe."

Back when Uncle Joe lived in a rowhouse on Cherry Street - the same house Ercole's grandparents moved into when they emigrated from Ireland - they would pull a few stepladders and planks from the basement and construct a grandstand on Logan Circle for the children to watch the marching bands and balloons pass by.

The festivities continued after the parade ended, with lunch at Uncle Joe's. He would have games for the kids and a table set up with pretzels and cookies.

Ercole said she loved drinking soda and eating hot dogs for lunch at the house, but she began to sneak in Budweiser when she got to high school.

They no longer go to the rowhouse. Instead, about 20 members of the family will gather for Thanksgiving dinner in Broomall, where Ercole's father, Jack Hunt, 85, still rules the house where the nine Hunt children were raised.

The afternoon usually consists of what another brother, Charles Hunt, calls "Irish Happy Hour," which means three to four hours of mixed drinks and beer, followed by a turkey feast.

The holiday's main event, however, will be the parade, as it has always been.

The tradition of visiting Uncle Joe for the parade grew over the years, Jack Hunt said.

"It started out with a smaller number, but eventually they would end up with about 75 people at that house," he said.

It would be mostly cousins. The Hunt-O'Flynn squad is large - Jack Hunt's mother, Mary O'Flynn, was one of 11 children. Friends of Uncle Joe's also would attend, with the younger children calling them uncles even if they were not related. And as Ercole's generation matured, they would invite their friends.

"It's contagious," Ercole said.

Their spot, as it always has been, will be right on Logan Circle in front of Moore College of Art and Design. That's where the makeshift grandstand would be located and where, to this day, adult members of the family make noise to attract balloons, floats, and marching bands over to their corner of parade route for the kids.

"We were always very loud and vocal," Jay Hunt said. "We were a major cheering section."

This year's parade will be Ercole's 53d, and she has noticed several changes over the years.

"The biggest change is that they've really cut down the number of marching bands," she said.

Ercole, who graduated from Cardinal O'Hara High School in 1975, recalls cheering on her school's marching band while other members of the family rooted for two of the other Catholic schools: either Monsignor Bonner or Cardinal Dougherty.

Keeping the tradition alive is important to Ercole. She has two daughters, Danielle, 25, and Justina, 26, and she doesn't want it to end with their generation.

"It's a tradition we had and I wanted to bring my kids," Ercole said. "We really don't want to see it die."

Jay Hunt, an account manager who lives near Orlando, tries to come to Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Day whenever possible, but can't make it this year.

"If I could get a plane to Philadelphia and fly back at night," he said, "I would do it in a heartbeat."