By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Santa Claus usually slips down the chimney, places gifts under the Christmas tree and then quietly slips out unseen while all the good boys and girls awaiting his arrival are sound asleep.
But Charlie Stewart, a 3-year-old girl from Sea Isle City, not only saw Santa but had a chance to chat with him while they sat next to each other in white rocking chairs Friday night.
“He was fun,” Charlie exclaimed in delight.
Asked what she hoped Santa would bring her for Christmas, she paused briefly and said she didn’t know. But on second thought, she noted she wanted a Barbie camper playset.
Charlie was among hundreds of children who joined Santa at Excursion Park in Sea Isle for a medley of Christmas songs. The kids later spent some precious one-on-one time with Santa while telling him their Christmas wish lists.
It was all part of the “Holiday Extravaganza” Christmas parade and tree lighting ceremony that drew thousands of revelers to Sea Isle for Thanksgiving weekend.
Although it wasn’t quite North Pole-like at the shore, the temperature dipped into the upper 30s to give Sea Isle a Christmassy feel. Santa was bundled up in his trademark plush red suit and cap.
He arrived in grand style Friday night aboard his fancy Polar Express locomotive. The adoring children shouted “Santa, Santa!” as he waved to them during the parade.
“It was fun seeing him on a train. He was waving exactly at me. I waved back,” said spectator Braydee McKenzie, 9.
Judging by the cheers for him from the crowd, Santa was clearly the star attraction. The parade also featured brightly decorated floats with twinkling lights. Fire trucks and other emergency vehicles added to the parade’s multicolor splendor by flashing their lights and blaring their sirens.
Mickey Mouse and Woody from “Toy Story” were among the Hollywood characters who made special appearances in the parade.
Braydee McKenzie staked out a prime spot at the corner of Landis Avenue and John F. Kennedy Boulevard to watch the colorful procession roll by shortly after 6 p.m. He was joined by his parents, Kathleen and Mickey McKenzie, and sisters, Kayla, 7, and Adeline, 3. The McKenzie family lives in Dresher, Pa., and has a vacation home in Sea Isle.
“I think I’m going to get a good view of Santa,” Braydee said confidently just before the parade began.
It turns out he did. So did many other children.
After chugging into town on his locomotive, Santa took to the stage at the Excursion Park Band Shell, along with Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio and some dancing elves.
“Let’s hear it for Santa Claus!” Desiderio boomed into a microphone.
After the crowd cheered, the mayor exhorted them again: “C’mon, you can do better than that. Let’s wake them up in Avalon,” he said as the spectators roared their approval.
Desiderio and Santa invited dozens of children up on stage for a sing-along of some Christmas classics, including “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Jingle Bells” to kick things off.
“These are the Sea Isle City Solid Gold Singers,” Desiderio gleefully said of the children.
Katie McGonigle, 8, of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., was handed the microphone by the mayor and led the crowd in the singing of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Showing absolutely no stage fright, Katie handled things like an old pro.
“I was used to it because I’ve done it before. I do it in my school play,” Katie, a third-grader at a Plymouth Meeting elementary school, said of singing Christmas songs in front of a crowd.
Before the dramatic night ended, there was one other honor that Santa performed to cap off the celebration. With the mayor at his side, Santa flicked the switch to light Sea Isle’s towering holiday tree in Excursion Park.
The crowd roared again.