The emcee for theHilton Head Christmas Tree Lighting had only to utter the words "red suit," "North Pole" and "reindeer" to get the attention of every child in the crowd Saturday.
Delighted squeals of "Santa!" rose in the crisp air as a snow-white BMW containing the man in red, Mrs. Claus and Rudolph glided slowly to the front of Shelter Cove's Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.
As Santa -- played by Joe Patton of Hilton Head Island -- received the Christmas wishes of youngsters, town Councilwoman Kim Likens lit the tree. With that, Hilton Head Island had officially kicked off the holiday season, Lowcountry-style.
Children got wreaths and stockings painted on their faces and made tree ornaments by decorating oyster shells. A Bluffton community band, the Hilton Head Elementary Singin' Sea Otters and the Bluffton School of Dance performed yuletide tunes and dances. Local jazz musician Lavon Stevens acted as emcee.
The free event has been held in front of the arts center for the past 16 years, according to CEO Kathleen Bateson. Money from donations, photos with Santa and Christmas-themed hats will be given to The Deep Well Project, a Hilton Head charity started to help needy families. Donations for face painting will go to the arts center's education programs, Bateson said.
The same tree -- a 35-foot tall Leyland cypress -- has been decorated each year of the event. This year, it took 3,700 light bulbs to brighten its branches, she said.
"It's the family tree of Hilton Head," Bateson said.
Patton heard requests from more than 100 kids during his two-hour appearance. Many kids asked for simple presents, such as roller skates, dolls and dinosaurs, he said.
Then again, it was clear many of the kids who sat on his lap are of the 21st century. He gave a rosy-cheeked, Santa-like chuckle as he said, "I got an amazing number of requests for iPads."
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Holiday season is busy season for Deep Well, Nov. 20, 2012