Rudolph with his nose so bright was unavailable to guide Santa's sleigh Sunday night, so Mr. Kringle made his way to Darien with the help of bright lights provided by a yellow fire truck from the Noroton Heights Fire Department.

Darien's Christmas season officially began as hundreds of Darien men, women and children waited for Santa to arrive at Grove Street Plaza at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. There was hardly room to squeeze between families as people stood chatting and listening to 15-year-old Darien resident EJ Couloucoundis belt out holiday classics like "Blue Christmas."

Parents swung toddlers onto their shoulders as the time for Santa's grand entrance drew nearer, and at about 5 p.m., the man in the beard appeared, eliciting gasps, giggles, shrieks and squeals from the younger audience members. It only took a short moment for Mr. December to disappear into a crowd of children vying for their inclusion on his "Nice" list. Moments after his arrival, Santa told attendants that he would begin making his way toward the Big Tree, which stands in the parking lot behind the Darien Sport Shop on the Post Road.

He urged everyone in attendance to carefully make their way over to the conifer for the second half of the evenings events. He advised everyone to move cautiously and attentively, since there were many small children in attendance and he didn't want anyone to get hurt.

People were still trickling into the parking lot by the pine tree when the count-down commenced and the ornaments on the tree lit up, illuminating the dark parking lot with brilliant blues, reds and yellows as a cheer erupted from the crowd.

"It's very cute," said Renee Potter, who was attending the annual event for the first time with her son, 20-month-old Spencer Aaronson.

Dave Clemans was also a first-time attendee at the celebration. He brought his 3-year-old daughter Eve in a stroller.

"She dressed herself," he said with a smile as he nodded toward his daughter, who was dressed in a red elf suit. She was really excited to see Santa, she said, and was planning to ask him for a Scooby Doo costume to appear under her tree this year.

But while there were several fresh faces at the festivity, there were also seasoned Santa experts, like Caroline and Christian Da Silva.

"We come every year," said their mother, Missy. Both of her children waded their way through the cluster of children waiting for a chance to snag Santa's ear.

Christian, who is 6-and-a-half, asked Santa for "anything," while his sister, who is 5, asked for an American Girl doll.

Several sets of parents decided to visit the Great Gift Giver later this month, since Santa will be stationed at the Darien Sport Shop each weekend between now and Christmas. For those not waiting in line, there was still plenty to do.

Over at Grove Street Plaza, the Tudor Singers were leading the crowd in caroling, and community members were soaking up what may be one of the season's last warm evenings.

"It's one of our more lovely community affairs," said Selectman Jayme Stevenson who attended the celebration after dropping her daughter off at the airport to fly back to college for the rest of her first semester away.

"It's nice, simple and home grown," Stevenson said.

The event was sponsored by the Darien Chamber of Commerce and Grove Street Plaza.