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Flying Santa drops treats to kids in Fire Island re-enactment

Santa greets, from left, Brianna Sipel, 7, of

Santa greets, from left, Brianna Sipel, 7, of Huntington, Evan Streber, 7, of McKinney, Texas, his sister Ella, 11, and Natalie Sipel, 5, of Huntington, with her father, Patrick, during a re-enactment of the 1953 drop of holiday gifts held at the Fire Island Lighthouse Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

Children shrieked with joy and pointed excitedly to the sky Saturday afternoon as a biplane made its pass.

Moments later, a parachute-equipped box filled with gifts floated to the beach near the Fire Island Lighthouse.

More than 300 kids and adults gathered in the chilly sunshine outside the 158-year-old lighthouse to see the 1930 Brunner-Winkle Bird make the drop.

The event, which featured five other vintage planes and an appearance by Santa Claus, was the 14th annual re-enactment of a 1953 delivery of Christmas gifts to then-isolated lighthouse keeper Godfried Mahler, his wife, Marilyn, and sons, Gottfried and Richard.

Back then there was not yet a bridge to Fire Island, and the lighthouse keeper’s family often had no way of getting to the mainland by boat because of ice, said David Griese, executive director of the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, which sponsored the re-enactment.

Sixty-three years ago this month, author Edward Rowe Snow flew a plane over Fire Island and dropped a package containing candy, wooden toys, newspapers, coffee and a box of spices, Griese said.

Snow was one of several people who delivered gifts to lighthouses in the Northeast starting in 1929, according to a history of the tradition on the website of the nonprofit Friends of Flying Santa.

The Saturday drop of a small gift-wrapped cardboard box onto the beach included a few items in homage to the original delivery: cinnamon sticks, candy canes and a wooden fish.

Moments after the drop, children shrieked again and pointed to the top of the 168-foot-tall lighthouse, where Santa Claus waved with his right hand while pressing his cap to his head with his left to protect it against the strong winds.

Some kids waited outside for an hour to sit on the lap of Santa, who was on a chair in what had been the Mahlers’ kitchen.

Thomas Feyrer, 5, of Wantagh, was jumping up and down and chanting “Santa, Santa, Santa!” with his siblings and friends as he waited outside.

He was excited to see Santa — played by Nick Worontzoff, 76, of East Islip — because “I love presents,” he said.

His request was simple: “earmuffs.” And, he added after a few seconds, “a bathrobe.”

Renee Calta, 40, of Babylon, was waiting with her son Jack, 8.

“You see Santa at the mall, at all the usual places, but this is different,” Calta said. “And Long Islanders love the beach.”

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