As the last light of sunset faded in the west, Joe Granda of the Marco Police Foundation held up, appropriately, red and green lights to vector Santa's helicopter into its landing zone. There, he and Mrs. Claus, who got to come along on a business trip for once, were greeted by Christmas Island Style chairman Steve Stefanides and, speaking of elves, a pair of them, Dillon Frutchey and Blaise Puig, wearing costumes they would have a hard time getting away with on any other occasion.
The Man in Red was also greeted by hundreds of children, frantically waving as the chopper approached, and an accompanying horde of parents and grandparents, holding them aloft or pulling out cameras and camera phones to record the moment. Carmen Basti, wearing the cap proclaiming him head of Santa's Security, escorted the Clauses as they bravely plunged into the throng.
Angelina Stidham, age 4, lit up with excitement when she saw Santa's helicopter descending, so her big sister Isabella, more mature at the age of 9, boosted her up to get six inches closer. Teddy Thomas, 6, carrying a handful of Christmas dolls and wearing white reindeer antlers, got to a higher vantage point, on the shoulders of Mickey Thomas.
The merchants who had the good sense to remain open saw their stores full of shoppers. Joyce McFarland, co-owner of Marco Island Clothing, recalled that her father in law was one of the first Santas at Shops of Marco, back in 1986. She noted that the next day while Santa was coming on "Black Friday," traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year, the next day was "Small Business Saturday," and encouraged islanders to patronize their local, and locally-owned, stores.
"We're shopping small," said McFarland. "This is the only time of year we have a storewide sale." Hot sellers included dresses, "sexy shoes," and "tech stuff," she said, including items such as iPhone cases by Vera Bradley – the perfect accessory if you already have the iPhone.
In front of House of Mozart, new owners Gaby and Robert Hofbauer, who just took over last month, passed out samples of goulash, one of their signature dishes, along with wiener schnitzel. Like Wolfgang Amadeus, noted Gaby, they come from Vienna.
Outside, big kids looked at the collection of antique and classic cars, including a 1924 Model T Ford, eyed by Dan Dowler and Terry Schut, and a '51 Ford Custom V8 convertible. JRobert and Martin Houghtaling provided sounds of the season, complete with bongos, steel drums and fiddle, keeping the Christmas music "island style."
A steady stream of children headed into Salon Botanica to have their photo taken with Santa, courtesy of Santa's photographer, Victoria Wright, who donated her services. All proceeds from the photos and the raffle conducted by the Key Club from Marco Island Academy went to Joy of Giving, Marco's homegrown charitable organization that provides assistance to area children who wouldn't otherwise have a bountiful Christmas morning.
Miniature schnauzers Zoey and Schotzie paraded in their Christmas finery, escorted by Wayne and Sue Purvis, promoting the upcoming Canine Christmas Parade, being held Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Esplanade.