BELFAST — As the sun slipped away on Friday afternoon, they began to gather. Groups of younger folks were first, excitedly playing in Post Office Square. As a starlit Belfast night dropped its veil, the Square began to fill up. Throngs of young people were joined by families, and groups spilling out of local restaurants – all descending on the Square.

Posing for a group photo are five girls among the throngs of young people who turned out for Belfast’s annual tree lighting Dec. 2. Photo by Jim Leonard

 

 

 

Hundreds of people descend on Post Office Square for the annual tree lighting Dec. 2. Photo by Jim Leonard

Our Town Belfast, a local business organization, began serving hot cocoa and sugar cookies. The Belfast Area High School chorus sang carols on the post office steps. Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders grabbed a microphone and whipped the group into a holiday reverie.

Folks line up for hot cocoa and cookies provided by Our Town Belfast at the Dec. 2 event. Photo by Jim Leonard

Elven members of the Belfast Area High School chorus sing carols at the annual tree lighting Dec. 2. Photo by Jim Leonard

The gathering multitude shared an electric anticipation, and one other thing.

They believe.

Their collective faith was rewarded at the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony Dec. 2. Sometime around 5:30 p.m., Santa parked his sleigh at the Belfast Fire Department and hitched a ride on a fire engine to Post Office Square.

Santa makes a triumphant arrival on a Belfast fire engine at the annual tree lighting on Dec. 2. Photo by Jim Leonard

Mrs. Claus accompanies Santa to the tree lighting ceremony, handing out candy canes. Photo by Jim Leonard

He arrived to an exuberant mass that filled the square and spilled out in every direction. He was accompanied by Mrs. Claus, who immediately set to the task of doling out candy canes.

St. Nicholas slowly worked his way through a sea of children, greeting all with handshakes, hugs and the occasional naught/nice question.

A youngster enjoys the wonder of Santa at Belfast’s annual tree lighting on Dec. 2. Photo by Jim Leonard

Santa visits with his admirers at Belfast’s annual tree lighting on Dec. 2. Photo by Jim Leonard

Santa interrupted his visit, briefly, to make his way over to the holiday tree perched at the edge of the Square. The crowd sensed the moment and counted down. At the appointed moment, Santa winked at the crowd, flipped a switch, and the Christmas tree sprang to life, showering the masses with color and holiday spirit.

As Santa returned to visiting with children, hundreds wandered the streets and filled local establishments as the reverie continued well into this magical night in Belfast.