Anticipation as well as the crowd continued to build as hundreds of families gathered on the parking lot of the Arbutus Town Hall to welcome Santa Clause Saturday night.
At 6:10 p.m., late-arriving visitors were greeting by the sight of huge parking lot filled with lines of children and adults patiently waiting at the Santa House, the moon bounce, the life-size Candy Land game.
The Ice Cream Cottage on the edge of the lot, next door to the huge community Christmas tree that was a new addition to the Nov. 26 event, also did a steady, brisk business.
In addition to welcoming the special guest of honor, who arrived on a fire engine from the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department, the annual event featured games and activities for the young ones, Christmas movies projected on the side of a while panel truck, free popcorn and refreshments.
Organizers of the annual event, which is sponsored by the Arbutus Business and Professional Association, stimated the crowd at several hundred and significantly larger than last year's event.
They attributed some of the increase to Saturday's unusually mild weather, with temperatures in the 50s, that was in stark contrast to last year when temperatures dropped below freezing..
Inside the Town Hall, Bruce SeBour, his wife, Debbie, and volunteers from the couple's ReMax New Beginnings real estate office on Sulphur Spring Road welcomed a steady flow of young visitors eager to take a break from the frenetic activity outside by building a birdhouse or coloring a picture.
"We had about 300 birdhouses and about 300 balloons and they went in the first 20 minutes," he said. "We're sorry we did not bring more."
He admitted he did not anticipate such a calm activity would be such a crowd-pleaser for the young set.
"It just took off," he said the office's first event three years ago. "They love them."
Outside, event co-organizer Jeff Utzinger announced over the public address system that he had just received word that Santa had indeed arrived and was on his way.
The sound of wailing sirens could be heard in the distance coming steadily closer and many of the little ones, concerned adults in tow, hurried to the far corner of the parking lot to await Santa's arrival.
Joe Beckman was at the wheel of the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department fire engine carrying the evening's guest of honor.
"Quite a few years," answered the veteran firefighter on how often he has drawn the duty to drive Santa to the event.
"We've never had a difficult trip," said Beckman, a Baltimore City career fireman who has 44 years with the Arbutus department.
Beckman, who has five children, 14 grandchildren and "soon to be 11" great-grandchildren, said he usually waits until the caravan of emergency vehicles is on East Drive before starting up the sirens to herald Santa's arrival.
As the sirens wailed, Arbutus resident Donna Howard watched her 6-year-old niece, Christine, and 8-year-old nephew, Eddie, scramble up the hill to gain a good spot to see Santa arrive..
This was their fourth year coming to the event, she said, and each year the two have been more excited than the year before.
"I think they just understand more what's going on now," said Howard, who remembered growing up in Arbutus when the celebration included a event at the town's movie theater during which lucky youngsters would go on stage to collect their prizes.
Nearby, Jeannie Simmons of the Pump It Up party facility in Elkridge, was among those manning the stand handing out glow sticks, inflatable hands and balls, and other items.
"We love this," said Simmons as Katie Bailey, a Long Reach High School student and Pump It Up employee who volunteered to hand out the free items nodded in agreement.
"My parents brought me and now I'm bringing my kids," said Simmons on the presence of 8-year-old Tyler and 6-year-old Dylan.
Simmons said this year's crowd was definitely bigger than last year's. The company's supply of 500 glow in the dark batons and more than 1,000 glow sticks the little ones wore around their necks was quickly exhausted, she said.
"They get a little upset when we ran out of things," she said. "But the minute they hear Santa is coming, they could care less."
An hour after his arrival, the parking lot had largely emptied. Few paid attention to "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" flickering on the side of the truck. The line that had stretched from the Ice Cream Cottage to the parking lot ended at the shop's porch.
But there were still lines for the moon bounce and Candy Land game sponsored by the Catonsville Y. Visitors, old and young, steadily streamed in and out of the Town Hall for the free refreshments provided by Arbutus Auto Painting and Bodyworks.
And Christmas music continued to play over the public address system.
The Santa House will be open 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until Christmas week. Santa will welcome visitors 6:30-8:30 p.m. Dec. 21,22 and 23 before leaving for his Christmas Eve duties.