By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
If Santa had any illusions of spending a leisurely vacation at the shore before the hustle and bustle of Christmas Eve, he soon found out otherwise.
Making a grand appearance in Sea Isle City on Friday night, he pulled yeoman’s duty by leading the annual holiday parade and then joining with hundreds of children in singing a medley of Christmas carols.
If that wasn’t enough, he also spent some precious one-on-one time with the good little boys and girls of Sea Isle to listen to their Christmas wishes.
Before the dramatic night ended, there was one other honor that Santa performed to cap off the celebration. With Mayor Leonard Desiderio at his side, Santa flicked the switch to light Sea Isle’s towering holiday tree in Excursion Park.
“We have a special guest with us tonight,” Desiderio said in a booming voice while introducing Santa on the stage at the Excursion Park Band Shell.
A crowd well in the hundreds erupted in cheers and applause. Resplendent in his flowing white beard and plush red suit, Santa acknowledged his admirers with a friendly wave.
“I love them,” Santa said of the children.
One of the children who had a chance to speak with Santa was 3-year-old Leo Cassidy, of Sea Isle. Leo gave Santa his wish list for Christmas gifts he wanted.
Danny Cassidy asked his son what it was like to meet Santa. “Good,” Leo responded with a laugh.
All in all, it was a joyful night for the thousands of spectators who lined the parade route and then packed into Excursion Park for the caroling and tree-lighting festivities.
“It shows that people want to come to Sea Isle. You can see by the huge crowd tonight that it was definitely on their calendar all year long,” Desiderio said.
“We want them to come back,” he added.
The celebration began with a colorful parade that rolled through town starting at around 6 p.m. Santa arrived aboard his fancy Polar Express locomotive as the parade’s guest of honor.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse, cast members from the Disney animated children’s film “Frozen” and the Grinch were among the characters who made special appearances in the parade. The Grinch, flashing his trademark frown, later received some good-natured boos from the crowd when he appeared on stage at Excursion Park.
The parade also featured brightly decorated floats with twinkling lights. Fire trucks and other emergency vehicles added to the procession’s multicolor splendor by flashing their lights and blaring their sirens.
Although it wasn’t quite North Pole-like at the shore, the temperature dipped into the 40s to give Sea Isle a slightly Christmassy feel weather-wise. Spectators were bundled up in coats, scarves, gloves and hats.
Some families staked out a prime spot at the corner of 49th Street and Central Avenue to catch a glimpse of Santa just as the parade was starting. Others waited for the parade to end at Landis Avenue and John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
Trish Fairlie, of Newtown Square, Pa., brought her daughters, Reese, 8, and Reagan, 3, to both locations to watch the parade begin and end.
They were joined by the girls’ cousins, Jack Pierangeli, 4, and his 2-year-old sister, Lauren. Jack and Lauren’s grandmother, Maureen Chrest, of Havertown, Pa., was also there. The family has a summer vacation home in Sea Isle.
All of the kids were ready to tell Santa exactly what they want to find under the tree come Christmas morning.
“I want a Barbie Dreamhouse,” Reagan said without hesitation.
“I want an Xbox,” Reese said of what is at the top of her Christmas list.
Jack paused for a moment when asked what he would like for Christmas. But on second thought, he blurted out, “I want a dragon.”
Even 2-year-old Lauren has a Christmas wish list. Maureen Chrest noted that her granddaughter has asked for a Barbie and a Barbie car.
It seems that Santa will be extremely busy filling all of those gift lists once he leaves Sea Isle and heads back to the North Pole. But wait a minute. He was already busy on Friday night in Sea Isle performing all of his duties.
“Santa will be coming up right now,” Reagan Fairlie said as the parade was getting underway and Santa was just getting started on his hectic night.