Santa waves to the crowd after his squad car ride, courtesy of Shelby County Sheriff Deputy Craig Dent.

Lakeland families greet Santa on Friday night

The City of Lakeland’s annual Christmas Festival went off with a hitch Friday evening as Santa thumbed a ride with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department to light the outdoor tree. Santa also visited with good little boys and girls waiting for him at the I.H. Clubhouse.

Santa (aka E.W. Golden of Lakeland) ditched his Corvette convertible for an escort by SCSO Deputy Craig Dent because of the misty rain and cold temps. Sirens blared as Dent delivered Santa to the festivities. Once the tree was lit, families gathered inside the I.H. Clubhouse to enjoy various craft-making activities, writing wish lists to Santa, biting into complimentary pizza cooked up and served by the staff of Papa Murphy’s and sipping on Raspberry Passion tea donated by Starbucks. Adults were treated to Starbucks coffee.

The Posey family, whose children attend Lakeland schools, took part in the excitement of the community-wide event. Hayden, 5, Jada, 7, and Bailey, 11, told Santa what was on their wish lists this year.

“We wouldn’t miss it,” said their father, Michael Posey. They fit the event in after leaving a student dance held at Lakeland Middle Preparatory School.

The cold and damp weather didn’t stop families from coming to visit Santa and it wasn’t going to stop Santa from making his way to see the children of Lakeland. Before heading back to North Pole, Santa heard every wish of children coming to see him. As he headed out the door, with a wave of his hand, he shouted, “Merry Christmas! Be good, kids, and I’ll see ya soon!”

Kim Odom is the City of Lakeland’s Senior Center manager and special events coordinator.