DEPEW, N.Y. — Hundreds turned out to Firemen's Park in Depew Monday night for the annual lighting of the village Christmas tree.
"This is one of those events that the village takes pride in bringing the residents together, much like our concerts do during the summertime," said Mayor Kevin Peterson.
The guest of honor arrived at Firemen's Park by hitching a ride with the Erie County Sheriff's Office helicopter unit, Air 1.
Santa stepped off the helicopter to the cheers of Depew residents young and old.
"I think to bring this something like this to the village, I think people even think it's sort of hokey, but it really does warm up most people's spirits," Peterson said.
Depew joined a national re-tree campaign two years ago. This means they no longer cut down a tree for Christmas purposes or use an artificial tree.
"Our tree that we lit tonight is, is a small one, but it'll grow," Peterson said. "We feel real good about that, we're out planting trees."
This is the 31st year Depew has held a tree-lighting ceremony. It's also the last for their Santa, Jeffrey Schuler. Schuler has been Santa's helper for 50 years and is retiring in his role after this year.
"I have to tell you, it is empowering position to be Santa, because you're getting the little ones all the way up to the older adults that just want to get a picture with Santa," Peterson said. "So it's very pure excitement, I think." '
Schuler has also greeted troops at the Buffalo airport returning for the holidays for the last few decades.
"He's been a fixture here in the village," Peterson said. "He's put an awful lot into it."