Santa lights up downtown Christmas celebration in Ocean City

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Jen Arthur / Santa Claus arrives in Ocean City. Jen Arthur / Santa Claus arrives in Ocean City.

OCEAN CITY — The sun was setting and the gathered crowd cheered as Santa Claus suddenly appeared, waving from the roof of historic City Hall Friday, Nov. 23. It was the annual Old Fashioned Family Christmas in the downtown.

Waiting on Asbury Avenue, the crowd began singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Fire trucks with sirens blaring arrived, and before long, Ocean City Firefighter John Quigley had climbed a long ladder to rescue Santa.

As Santa made his way slowly down the ladder, the crowd sang “We Wish you a Merry Christmas.” They cheered wildly as Santa made his way to the lawn of City Hall to greet children and the Phillie Phanatic, who made a special appearance at the event.

Santa took Christmas orders from the crowd, which included a few dolls, a nutcracker and Lego toys. Noting the special moment, Mayor Jay Gillian thanked everyone for being a part of such a “special day in Ocean City.”

“May the Christmas spirit live in your hearts always and forever,” he said.

The crowd counted down from five for Santa to flip the switch and light the enormous Christmas tree on the lawn at City Hall.

Michael Hartman, artistic director for the Ocean City Theatre Company, who served as host for the event, led the crowd in shouting “Merry Christmas!”

The arrival of Santa Claus was the grand finale of the event – this year themed “Our Miracle on Asbury Avenue,” an afternoon of music and merriment.

The occasion included musical entertainment from members of the OCTC. Morgan Kirner, an award-winning student at the Boston Conservatory who starred in OCTC’s “Cinderella” and “Charlotte’s Web” over the summer, sang numerous solos, leading off with “Extraordinary Christmas” from the television show “Glee.”

She followed with “Santa Baby,” “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” “White Christmas,” “Where are you Christmas?” “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World.”

Children, many sitting atop the shoulders of a parent or grandparent, sang along with the familiar Christmas songs as they anxiously awaited Santa’s arrival.

“I love it when they do this,” said Beth Bowman, who came to the event with her daughter, a former Miss New Jersey, Tricia Bowman Branch, and two grandchildren, Siena and Andrew.

Bowman’s son, Billy Bowman, deputy chief for the OCFD, was among those assisting in Santa’s rescue.

“It’s so special, it almost makes you want to cry,” she said.

Hurricane Sandy devastated the downtown four weeks ago, but many of the stores were able to reopen in time for the traditional Black Friday celebration.

“Nothing spoils Ocean City, not even a hurricane,” Bowman said. “Everything looks so beautiful. When you think about what the downtown looked like a few weeks ago, and you see what they have accomplished, it’s just amazing. I’m so impressed, and so happy to see this.

“This is the Christmas miracle, in time for Thanksgiving,” she said. “I’m just in awe of this, how they were able to make a turnaround like this. The downtown, it really is a miracle what they have done.”

Nick Marotta, a past president of the Ocean City Board of Realtors and member of the city’s tourism commission, said he too believed it was a miracle.

“It’s unbelievable how they have recovered,” Marotta said. “It’s so nice to see. The kids are all so happy; you look at all these people, all these smiles. It’s been a real long run for the folks in Ocean City this past month. This is absolutely incredible.”

Hartman encouraged the crowd to “shop on Asbury Avenue and dine on Asbury Avenue” as Santa and the Phillie Phanatic greeted the crowd.

The event was sponsored by the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and included the unveiling of the city’s new Christmas decorations.

“We’re not finished yet, we have more coming,” said Paul Francis, owner of P. Francis, a downtown shop.

Francis worked with Downtown Decorations, the company that provided the decorations, and City Council to make the decorations possible. Council approved funding for the decorations last month.

The holiday adornments appear on the Welcome Center on the Route 52 Causeway, along Ninth Street and Asbury Avenue, on City Hall and on the Music Pier.

“We’re lucky to be standing here with what we have,” Francis said.

Hurricane Sandy, he said, put a big crimp in the process of installing the decorations, nearly derailing the effort. Downtown Decorations, he said, worked overtime to make sure it was done right, so the devastated seashore community would look beautiful for Christmas.

“They rearranged their schedule,” he said.

Michele Gillian, executive director of the chamber, said she had tears in her eyes when Santa arrived to such a large crowd in a downtown that had come a long way back in a very short period of time. It “really all came together this week,” she said.

“To see how bad the downtown was, and then to see this happen today, it was pretty special,” she said. “We needed a nice day like this. It was a beautiful day, people were out and they were shopping.”

The fourth annual event, she said was the “best ever,” attracting a lot of local families and second homeowners, who have made coming to Ocean City for Thanksgiving a tradition.

“This year more than ever, we really needed this,” she said.

Jen Arthur / Santa Claus arrives in Ocean City. Jen Arthur / Santa Claus arrives in Ocean City.

Jen Arthur / Santa Claus arrives in Ocean City. Jen Arthur / Santa Claus arrives in Ocean City.

Jen Arthur / Santa Claus arrives in Ocean City. Jen Arthur / Santa Claus arrives in Ocean City.

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