PEPPERELL -- The cold, drizzly weather did nothing to dampen the holiday spirit of the approximately 500 residents packed into the Lawrence Library's front lawn on Friday evening. Anticipation and cups of free hot cocoa kept them warm as they eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa Claus at the annual Christmas Tree Lighting.
Luckily the crowd didn't have to wait too long. Less than 20 minutes after the event commenced at 6:45, the bright red light and sounds that accompany Santa's annual arrival could be heard down Main Street -- not Rudolph's nose nor the galloping of reindeer hooves pulling Santa's sleigh, but the sirens of an altogether different sort of bright, red transportation: a Pepperell fire truck. Each year, Santa parks his sleigh and reindeer at Pepperell Skydiving, said Lee Ann Phoenix, president of the Friends of the Lawrence Library, and is transported by the Fire Department.
Then, once he arrives, he takes his place by the Christmas tree and, on the count of three, lights it.
"The children's eyes just light up. It's magical," said Kim Green, co-chairwoman of the event.
A chorus of voices from the Girl Scouts of Troop 11195 filled the air with holiday tunes, accompanied by students of Appleseed Preschool. After the tree was lit, Santa manned his place in a special workshop built on the top floor of the library, as droves of children lined up to have their photos taken with him. On the way out the door, Brownies and Junior Troops passed out bags of homemade reindeer food, complete with oatmeal and glitter.
Most of the children in attendance agreed: Seeing Santa was the best part of the evening.
"I haven't seen him in a while," said Riley Adamson, 6, adding that he looked like he hadn't changed much since the last time she had laid eyes on him.
For others, like 6-year-old Charlie Laprad, who was in attendance with his aunt Anne Marie Trowbridge, it was his first meeting with the fabled figure. And it was worth every minute.
"I got to see Santa all night," said Charlie, his voice giddy with excitement. "And he even gave me a high five."
Frosty the Snowman was also in attendance, courtesy of WROR radio station.
"We do these events all over New England," said Jackie O'Brien of WROR. "It's just to get ourselves out there."
The annual event, which is organized by the friends of the Lawrence Library, has been taking place since the 1980s and has long since been a holiday staple for many residents of Pepperell.
"I think it's been such a long-standing tradition that people just know about it and they bring their kids to see Santa and see the tree lit," said Phoenix.
Fire Chief Toby Tyler and his wife, Cathy, have been taking their children to the annual event for the last 13 years. Although its crucial aspects have remained largely the same since it began over two decades ago, it has expanded over the years.
"It seems like there are more and more people every year," said Briana Tyler, 19.
And the whole town helps to make sure the event comes together. The 15-foot tree was donated by Twin Brook Farms, the cocoa by the Pepperell Spa and the cookies by Donelan's. The DPW helped insert the tree in the ground, Al St. Croix of the Pepperell Music Center took care of the sound and 1A Auto donated tents in case of rain. Charter Communications helped Santa light the tree, the police directed traffic and, of course, the Fire Department lent a truck.
For the past several years, the Friends of the Lawrence Library have been using the opportunity to hold a food drive, collecting nonperishable donations for Pepperell Aid from Community to Home Outreach.
"Everybody comes together to help every year without fail," said Green. "It's a heartwarming event. It just brings people together."