NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - The holiday season officially kicked off Friday night for New Providence and area residents with the annual New Providence Christmas Walk, a community event that saw hundreds turn out to visit downtown shops and get a taste of holiday cheer.

“We come here every year,” said Nicole Gallo of Berkeley Heights, who was with her husband Jim, who is originally from New Providence, and their children. “We love it. We come out to support the community and of course the kids came to see Santa.”

Santa, as expected, was the main attraction. With the high school marching band aloft on South Street playing Christmas songs, jolly Saint Nick appeared on the roof of the Provident Bank promptly at 6 p.m. and climbed atop a fire truck ladder extension ladder and waved vigorously to the crowd.

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This was to be the first stop for Santa this holiday season. On Friday December 11, he will make a second stop at the New Providence Firehouse, greeting children and other holiday well wishers from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

But for tonight, Santa’s appearance was the cornerstone of the event, which featured 43 New Providence shops and establishments. All opened their doors to the throngs of people who were able to walk from shop-to-shop to enjoy traditional seasonal treats offered by the businesses, included candy canes, hot chocolate and holiday cookies.

“It’s great to be a part of community outreach and enhance that relationship with our customers,” said Kristy Braunschweiger of Braunschweiger Jewelers. “I like seeing our customers walking around filling out their wish lists.”

Braunschweiger’s went above an beyond offering traditional treats by giving Christmas Walkers an opportunity to see ice sculptures carved on site by ice carver Neil Trumper.

Other businesses got creative with their cheer. Take, for example, McGrath’s Hardware, a New Providence staple establishment, which was raffling off “The World’s Largest Stocking,” an eight-foot stocking filled with toys and holiday foods.

“It’s a great night and we have a great turnout,” said Scott McGrath, owner of McGrath’s Hardware. “I expect that I will get upwards of 1,200 customers in here this evening.”

This year the Christmas Walk was moved up to a 5 p.m. start time to accommodate the schedules of younger children and their families.

The earlier time is also apparently helpful for business.

“Can I spend some money here?” said a smiling Frank Morang of New Providence, who was in McGrath’s to purchase a part for his home.

“The business, well maybe, ” Braunschweiger said. "As I see it, the Christmas Walk is about the children. If we contribute to their experience we have done well.”

“It’s great to be a part of this New Providence tradition,” said Don Murphy, whose NP Fuel gas station is located on South Street directly across the Provident Bank. “I enjoy seeing the community come out and get ready for the holiday season. And I like the fact that I can help out by providing some additional space for the crowds to see Santa.”