"Merry Christmas," Santa Claus bellowed from 45 feet above Massachusetts Street.
"Merry Christmas," Daniel Hamilton, 8, bellowed back from the ear-muffed and stocking-capped crowd below.
Siren screams from fire engines and police cars pierced the chilly air, and the crowd looked from Santa to the approaching swirling lights, red as his nose.
An announcer called out that the Lawrence Fire Department would rescue Santa from Weaver's Department Store's high rooftop, and children looked and pointed, mouths agape.
Children and parents alike cheered when St. Nick nimbly stepped onto the chimney-wide ladder and began his descent. Pointy-eared elves followed their bearded boss.
Santa had arrived.
Daniel and his friend, Adrian Martinez, 8, said they both wanted to ask Santa for a radio-controlled car.
"We deserve it," Daniel said. He assessed his day to prove it: "We weren't cheating at recess today."
Both boys play "kick back" (kind of like kick ball, but different) during fourth-grade recess at Kennedy School.
EVEN AS Santa descended the ladder, people began to line up at "Santa's House" in front of First National Bank where he will listen to children's wishes.
Like many children there, Chauncey Jackson, 10, and Joy Jackson, 9, were getting restless in the cold and among the large crowd.
"I hope he hurries up. I'm getting cold," Joy said.
Delores Jackson, who has lived in Lawrence for 31 years and has brought her children to see Santa before, said they had behaved well during the year.
"They got A's and B's on their report cards, so they're doing good," she said. Both children attend New York Elementary.
Sabine Breitkreuz has never experienced a Lawrence Christmas. The Breitkreuz family arrived in the United States three months ago from Berlin.
"In the malls, we had something like Santa Claus," Breitkreuz said, holding her two girls, Merle, 3, and Laura, 6. "But it's not the same as him coming down. They never saw it before, and they can't believe it."
SANTA will hear requests from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays until Dec. 19 at the house, which officially is called the SEWS House. SEWS stands for Spring Equinox-Winter Solstice.
Lindsay Williamson, 3, is a big "Beauty & the Beast" fan, as proved by her "B&B" velcro sneakers that she proudly pointed to.
"We've got the Christmas tree up at our house," she said earnestly. She would ask Santa to put the Disney movie under the tree Christmas morning.
Lindsay's mother, Wendie Morphew, said she had emphasized the true meaning of Christmas to her three children: Lindsay, Dennis, 4, and Jay, 8.
Dennis, who was born Christmas Eve, hadn't decided what he would like from Santa.
Jay knew what he wanted.
"I want a Bat Cycle," Jay said. After looking up at Mom, he added, "I don't care what I get as long as I get to give something."