WINDHAM - Santa gave the reindeer Saturday afternoon off and caught a ride into town with the fire department to help a crowd celebrate.
The Salem High School marching band escorted the holiday's head honcho to the Windham Town Common where, after greeting fans, he headed inside the Armstrong Memorial Building to begin several hours of toy talks and negotiations.
While kids waited in line to speak with Santa, the Windham Community Band belted out a long program of Christmas hits to keep the mood merry. And the hot chocolate flowed freely, thanks to a group of volunteers from Chunky's Cinema Pub.
"The best part of this is seeing the community come out," said Cheryl Haas, coordinator for the town's recreation department,which hosted the event.
Windham has been turning out for its annual community Christmas party for decades, and Saturday's raw drizzle was never a credible threat for the long-standing tradition.
And besides, Windham was prepared. Boy Scout Troop 266 built a bonfire in the middle of the town green, where people kept stopping to warm their fingertips and toes.
"We do this every year, or for at least as long as I can remember," said Scoutmaster Dee Deranian as he tossed a pallet into the flames. "We're the Boy Scouts."
Deranian was helped by scouts including David Pierson, who may be best known around town for helping kids learn coordinated martial arts movements that look like geometric ballet.
"There's a huge sense of community in Windham," said Pierson, a 2008 Eagle Scout.
Girl Scouts from Troop 12338 also was helping people stay warm by collecting hats and mittens for those in need. The troop was working with Windham Helping Hands, a town network that reaches out to neighbors when they need some help.
"We try to support families who are struggling," said Helping Hands board member Patti Letizio.
She noted that despite Windham's reputation as an affluent community, it does have people who need help.
Over at the Armstrong Building, Mrs. Claus was manning the door and quietly chatting with kids lined up to see Santa. She kept reminding everyone to whisper.
Santa was not only meeting with kids on the other side of the door, he was also broadcasting live on Windham Community Television.
Slayde Watson, 6, who lives on Cobbetts Pond, munched on a candy cane and said he told Santa all he wanted was his two front teeth. "He told me to go to bed extra early on Christmas Eve," said Watson who added that, in addition to the dental work, a pogo stick would be nice.
Watson's sister, Shaye, 4, said she was also hoping for a pogo stick until her grandfather reminded her about the doll house she has been talking up.
As it started getting dark, Haas rallied the Windham Middle School Chorus for their performance during the town tree lighting.
Windham High School doesn't have a group of marching horns and drums, and Haas said the town really appreciated Salem High's band stepping in to play for Santa's arrival. "And what's really nice is they said they'll continue coming, so they'll be here next year," she said.