A red Cortland fire truck slowed to a stop a few minutes after 6 p.m. Saturday in front of City Hall, the passenger door swung open and out stepped Santa Claus to begin the annual city tree lighting ceremony.
About 100 people gathered along the Court Street sidewalk applauded.
The Cortland High School concert choir lead attendees in seasonal songs before lights were illuminated on a pine tree towering over City Hall.
Most of the visitors soon walked next door to the main city fire station, a castle-like edifice, where hot chocolate, milk and cookies were offered in the truck bay, and children met Santa and posed for photos with him.
“I love kids,” said Kristen Gregory, 36, of Cortland, a city firefighter for a year and a half, dressed as an elf as she and other firefighters prepared to pick up Santa Claus.
Gregory said it was he first time participating in the tree-lighting event. Last year, she helped with the Here Comes Santa Claus event, in which firefighters drove Santa to the homes of children across the city to deliver presents.
Firefighter Jeff Moore, 27, was among the crew that delivered Santa to Saturday’s tree lighting.
“I just wanted to help out in the community,” he said. “Helping Santa get where he needs to get to.”
The event is organized by the fire department, the mayor’s office and others in City Hall.
“It’s fun fun to watch the kids with Santa,” said Connie Sorrells of the city finance office. “Everyone needs to take five minutes to have some Christmas cheer.”
Devon Rainbow, confidential secretary to the mayor, said planning began months ago as singers had to be found, not an easy task during a holiday weekend. Other details, like arranging donations of milk and cookies, are worked out as well.
Tobin said the weather was perfect, 32 degrees and a clear sky during a break in what the weather forecast had predicted would be a 95 percent chance of rain during the event.
“This is our first Christmas lighting,” Rusty Weeks, 57, said as he gathered with family to get a closer look at the tree after the ceremony. He held his grandson, 21-month-old Rhett Weeks as Rhett’s parents, Rusty Weeks I, 35, and Kacey Weeks, 32, stood close by.
Elizabeth and Jared Stoffan, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, brought their 9 1/2-month-old son, Jamison, to take photos with Santa.
“We wanted to visit Santa for the first time,” said Elizabeth Stoffan, who grew up in Cortlandville.
“I loved it,” said Dannie Reynolds, a fire police lieutenant, who was a disproportionally round and red-attired helper of Santa. “I like being with the public, getting the public involved.”