201211-A-LS252-005.jpegFort Jackson residents came out in force at Patriots Park Dec. 11 as Santa Claus visited the post during the annual Holiday Tree Lighting event. (Josephine Carlson)

By Josie Carlson                                                                                                                                                                                                   Fort Jackson Public Affairs

Fort Jackson community members gathered around the Christmas tree at Patriots Park, anxiously waiting for the tree to be lit and for Santa Claus to arrive. In the meantime, Santa’s elves handed out toys and collected letters to Santa.

After retreat, Fort Jackson commander Brig. Gen. Milford H. “Beags” Beagle Jr. and his wife Pam lit the tree. Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived in a big red truck and he waved at all the children as he took his place in front of the tree. Once it was their turn, each child sat on a box in front of Santa so that everyone could continue to maintain social distancing while getting their picture taken.

The jolly man gave us a special interview after the event.

Santa said he felt this event was “so needed” by the community and that it would “usher in the light to drive out the darkness of the COVID-19 pandemic and prove that goodness and kindness and love can overcome the negative, even in these tough times.”

Santa expressed joy after reading more than 200 letters from “all the good boys and girls, the artwork and the well wishes.”

Col. Wes Hankins reminded everyone to keep their distance from other Families, pointing out that snowflake markings on the sidewalk helped Families social distance properly. There were also green circles painted on the grass that Families could stand in to ensure they were not too close to others.

Santa wasn’t allowed to hug the children like he is used to. He said it was hard for him not to hug each child, but the love was there.

He and Mrs. Claus were overwhelmed with emotion and appreciation that so many Families came out to see them.