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Santa's sleigh was swapped for a boat in Mystic on Saturday

Mystic — Santa swapped his sleigh for a schooner sailboat Saturday when he sailed into downtown Mystic through a bitter cold wind to kick off the Christmas season.

Despite the frigid chill in the air, crowds gathered along the docks to see jolly old Saint Nicholas wave from the bow of the boat, jingle bells ringing around his neck atop his large red and white coat. 

After reaching land, he and his elves welcomed a long line of little ones who waited their turn to tell him their Christmas wishes. Dressed in all pink with tears rolling down her rosy cheeks, 10-month-old Ireland Mailhot sat on Santa’s lap for her first ever visit — not all too thrilled — as her mother and grandmother took photos to commemorate her first Christmas. 

“It was just magical, it’s been such a beautiful day here,” said Jaqueline Rodgers, who drove over an hour to Mystic from Seekonk, Mass., with her daughter Shelby Mailhot and granddaughter Ireland, just to see Santa.

“It was totally worth the trip,” said Rodgers. 

Cassandra Provost of Norwich waited in line with three of her children, Halen Ludwig, 9, Savanna Ludwig, 6, and Gabriel Provost, 5, so they could share their Christmas lists. As they munched on candy canes from Santa after spending a few minutes whispering in his ear, the children told their mom what they asked for this Christmas. Halen wants a blanket, his sister wants a Barbie doll and Gabriel emphatically asked for a Nascar racetrack. 

Provost said that although they were shivering from the cold, it was worth every minute “just to see their faces and how much they loved meeting him.” 

“It was priceless,” she said. 

Kris Kringle, normally the star of the show, was accompanied this year by another star, Elvis Presley. Decked out in a sparkling white ensemble, the Elvis impersonator, Bill Cherry of Legends in Concert, waved to fans alongside Santa.

Other musical performers entertained the crowds as they waited for their moment with Santa. A group of Christmas carolers dressed all in red and green, some wearing Santa hats, antlers, or bright blinking bulbs around their necks, sang favorite holiday songs as spectators looked on or sang along. 

Santa was chatting with children in Mystic River Park for hours leading up to the lighting of the tall Christmas tree in the center of the park and the annual boat light parade. This year, the parade was the biggest it’s ever been, as 26 elaborately decorated, twinkling, blinking, sparkling boats made their way downriver. 

The parade was escorted through the drawbridge by boats from local fire and police departments, as judges looked on, casting their votes for the most creative or best Christmas spirit. 

Historically, Santa’s arrival in Mystic has been by tugboat, but his tugboat ran into some technical issues this season. Solveig Persson, marketing and events specialist at the Mystic Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the annual festivities, said Mystic Seaport saved the day by volunteering the schooner sailboat Little Vigilant to bring Santa Claus to town.

“Mystic Seaport is one of our great sponsors and great neighbors in the Mystic community, and they stepped up to help us,” said Persson. 

After having to halt their annual tradition last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Persson said she and everyone at the chamber were thrilled to see locals and tourists alike back in the waterfront town enjoying a day of festive, family, fun.

“It’s just so wonderful to see the joy and excitement on these kids’ faces,” said Persson. 

The festivities, she said, also help to draw in more customers to the plethora of downtown shops. Lining up with Small Business Saturday, visitors are invited to start their holiday shopping in the many clothing boutiques, specialty shops and book and music stores on West Main Street. 

Storefronts were decorated with wreaths and ribbons as most stores had their doors open for the steady stream of shoppers filling the area on Saturday.

“It’s just so great that we have everybody coming into town and kind of getting a kickstart on their Christmas shopping while they're here to see Santa. We love helping to bring some more people into all of the beautiful stores that are here in downtown Mystic,” said Persson.


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