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Santa Claus is coming to town again.

Actually, the cheery figure also known as St. Nick arrived in Catonsville with much fanfare on Saturday and figures to stick around until Christmas.

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And that will be a delightful prospect for youngsters and the young of heart — regardless of age — who reside in what Don Mohler called "The 'Ville" and were on hand to welcome Santa while drinking hot chocolate, munching cookies and listening to holiday music.

Mohler, a lifelong Catonsville resident and former Catonsville High School principal, used that phrase when addressing an estimated crowd of 2,000 merrymakers who attended the 23rd edition of the holiday celebration, which also featured the lighting of the town's Christmas tree.

"This is what Catonsville is all about," said Mohler, the chief of staff for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. "It's small-town America at its finest."

Part of his speech was devoted to praising Greg Morgan, the originator of the idea to make Santa's first visit to Catonsville an annual tradition on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

"Greg and his family had the vision" to believe in the idea and to see it through, Mohler said.

Another of the event's organizers deemed the comforting yuletide tradition held at the intersection of Frederick Road and Egges Lane a "magical" experience.

"It's a night when a lot of different people all get along," said George Deal, the event coordinator for the Catonsville Santa House Committee. "It's just a peaceful, quiet night that brings a whole community together."

Deal's description of the gala was mirrored in many smiling faces in the crowd on an unseasonably mild evening as they watched the Johnnycake (Elementary School) Jaguars a cappella group sing "Silent Night," The Temptations' rhythmic version of "White Christmas" and a medley of "Away in a Manger," "O Christmas Tree" and "Hark the Herald," among other seasonal favorites.

After the chorus left the stage followed by fifth-grade math/science teacher Cara Detwiler, a Dickeyville resident who mentored the group but had only four dedicated practice sessions to prepare, the crowd counted down the seconds to the lighting of the tree.

"I'm so proud of the kids," she said. "To get up and perform that well in front of this many people showed their confidence in themselves."

Following the tree lighting, a brief fireworks display from the fire department tower drew oohs and ahs from the assembled, some of whom were sporting Santa caps.

Like that 10-foot pine tree Deal planted a decade ago that has since sprouted 25 feet skyward and is now adorned with homemade ornaments created by Westowne Elementary School students, the event has been nurtured by many helping hands.

Deal and Morgan say they are indebted to plenty of other people and businesses that are instrumental in making sure the celebration always goes off without a hitch, including 98.6 Sound, for supplying a professional sound system; the Catonsville Ravens Club, which decorated the tree; Otterbein's Bakery, for donating 10 cases of cookies; Dusenberg's American Cafe and Grill, which made 30 gallons of hot chocolate; and ABC Equipment Rental, for lending a cherry picker so the ornaments could be hung on the tree.

Not to be forgotten are legal services rendered by Weinkam and Weinkam law firm, Deal said, and the Baltimore County Fire Department's Catonsville Fire Station, which keeps the Santa House grounds well maintained year-round in the off months when Santa is, presumably, back at the North Pole plotting his next trip south.

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However, while he is here, Santa's house is open for the business of kids proffering their Christmas wish lists on Fridays, 6-8 p.m., and Saturdays, 2-4 p.m., before Christmas Day.

For his opening appearance, Santa was not flying solo. Mrs. Claus was also on hand to pose for pictures with a slew of wide-eyed youngsters.

Linda Gallagher, decked out in a long red robe with faux white fur piping and blinking red earrings, said it was her third year of making the Clauses a couple.

The retired oncology nurse said she lifted the idea of donning a long robe from Rosemary Clooney's role in the final scene of the movie "White Christmas." Gallagher wore the robe when visiting patients at St. Agnes Hospital before deciding to help Santa's seasonal debut in Catonsville.

Parked near the stage on Egges Lane was John Purkey's used firetruck, dubbed Purkey's Party Pumper and sporting a decal dedicated to grandsons Nathan, Jackson, Bradley and Randy on the passenger-side door. It propelled a steady stream of bubbles and fake snow into the air followed by occasional bursts by a flamethrower mounted on the top of the vehicle.

It was the Baltimore Highlands resident's first appearance at the event with the truck he found on the Internet and purchased in Reno, Nevada.

He said he drove it the 2,564 miles to his home and brings it to local events "for the kids" with his girlfriend, Kristy Helmert.

As children of all ages scrambled into the cab or just enjoyed watching the bubbles float through the air, the truck added to the festivities that are becoming almost as much a part of the fabric of Catonsville as the annual Fourth of July celebration.

"It's a cool tradition to start the season," said Grace Rudy, an 11-year-old student at Trinity School in Ellicott City.

Her mom, Catonsville resident Laura Rudy, said Grace and her three sisters — one of whom was attending for the first time as a 10-month-old — "love the event. They were afraid it was going to rain."

Even though there was a light drizzle at times, it did not dampen the spirits of the people who love the yuletide atmosphere the most, including Mohler, who does not care if Catonsville's community Christmas celebration could be chided for a lack of sophistication.

"It captures the essence of Catonsville," said Mohler, a Mount Saint Joseph grad who has granddaughter at Catonsville Middle School, a grandson in the third grade at Hillcrest Elementary School and another grandson in kindergarten at Hillcrest. "If it's hokey, OK, guilty as charged. I love being hokey."

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