Visitors warmed up by the huge fire in Riverhead during...

Visitors warmed up by the huge fire in Riverhead during its 12th annual holiday bonfire. (Dec. 10, 2011) Credit: Alexi Knock

Hundreds of people eagerly stood on the dock Saturday night as Santa Claus made his way up the Peconic Riverfront in Riverhead by boat toward his gingerbread house. When Santa got off the boat twinkling with holiday lights, he threw magical dust on a pine tree and it instantly lit up as young children watched in awe.

“This is how we get people to downtown Riverhead in the dead of winter,” said Eddie Densieski, former councilman for the Town of Riverhead.

Densieski, along with other members of the town came up with the idea for a holiday bonfire in 2000, where visitors can enjoy free hot cocoa and cupcakes donated by the Riverhead Business Improvement District and local businesses like The Baker’s Workshop.

“We’ve always strived to have a quality event, not a big event,” said Densieski of the estimated 1500 people who attended this year. “It’s not commercialized at all and that’s the whole beauty of it.”

The gathering centered around a 20-foot bonfire with wood donated by the business improvement agency.

“I think it’s a really great small town gathering that’s perfect for kicking off the Christmas season,” said Alice Summerville, 72, of Riverhead, as she waited in line for hot cocoa. “There’s a very friendly spirit here.”

The hot cocoa was served by volunteers like Loretta Trojanowski, a senior assessment clerk for the Town of Riverhead.

“I’ve done this event for 10 years and I can’t believe how much it’s grown,” said Trojanowski as she monitored the line to Santa’s gingerbread house.

Many agreed that the highlight of the event was seeing Santa Claus on his boat waving to everyone on the dock. As he walked to the little house designated for photos, children surrounded and hugged him.

Christian Casaburro, 8, and his brother Nicolas, 6, of Miller Place each offered Santa a high five after getting a photo.

“My favorite part was seeing Santa and asking him for a Wii,” said Christian.

The boy’s grandmother, Terry Casa, 54, is new to the town and thought it was a wonderful way to see the entire community come together.

“We really appreciate all that the town has done for us.” said Casa. “This is a tremendous event.”

Photo: The 2011 Riverhead holiday bonfire has great flame and a a warming glow.

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