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Santa-themed events in New England

Doing the old meet-and-greet with St. Nick at a department store? So 2011!! The jolly old elf in the fuzzy red suit has been shaking things up a bit. These days, you’re likely to find him zooming down a ski slope, running a 5K with 2,000 of his best buds, and making his red-carpet arrival by parachute. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when fueled with cookies and milk.

Here is a look at some fun Santa-themed events taking place in New England this holiday season, where you can meet the man of the hour — or even play elf yourself.

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Santa is a guy who likes a dramatic entrance. Perhaps practicing his Christmas Eve moves, Santa arrives in Salem (Dec. 7, 978-744-3663, www.salem.org) atop the Hawthorne Hotel, and descends a Salem Fire Department ladder truck to greet the children below. In seaports like Rockport, Mass. (Dec. 1, 978-283-1601, www.christmasinrockport.org), and Kennebunkport, Maine (Dec. 4, www.christmasprelude.com), Santa cruises into town on — what else — a lobster boat, taking part in parades and other festivities. He changes things up when he hits Mystic, Conn. (Nov. 24, 860-572-9578, www.mysticchamber.org), arriving by tugboat. Later, Santa returns to Mystic River Park to officially light the Christmas tree, as townsfolk sing “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Then the Holiday Lighted Boat Parade begins, when 25 vessels glide down the river.

Of course, Santa is an aviation guy, given that his favorite mode of transport is a flying sled, but who knew he was into extreme sports? The man — and his elves — drop into Quincy by parachute. This daredevil move (Nov. 24, 12:30 p.m. in Pageant Field, 617-471-1700, www.thequincychamber.org) kicks off a weekend of holiday events in the South Shore city, including the 60th Annual Christmas Parade — the largest of its kind on the East Coast, they say. After Santa lands in the Granite City, he and his elves mingle with the crowd of 3,000 or so, and then he hitches a ride with the Fire Department.

On Santa Sunday at Sunday River Resort in Maine, Santas ski for free.

Sunday River Resort

On Santa Sunday at Sunday River Resort in Maine, Santas ski for free.

He’s accustomed to rowdy reindeer, so clearly Santa can handle a team of Alaskan sled dogs. See for yourself when he rolls into Waterville Valley Resort in Waterville Valley, N.H., on a dogsled. Upon arrival in Town Square, Santa and his elves meet with each child, doling out candy and small gifts; proceeds from photo sales ($5) benefit the Whole Village Family Resource Center. The day ends with fireworks (Nov. 24, 800-468-2553, www.visitwatervillevalley.com).

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Imagine strolling down Church Street in Burlington, Vt., on a quiet Sunday morning and running smack into a pack of 2,000 sweaty Santas. It happens when St. Nick and friends show up for the second annual Santa 5K Run & Walk, run by Ri-Ra Irish Pub. This is a chance to play Santa yourself — the entry fee and runner pledges support Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, a year-round camp for children who have, or have had, cancer. “Most people sign up in groups of friends and family, and many run with their dogs and baby strollers that are decorated festively for the event,” says Matt Messenger of Ri-Ra.

All participants receive a Santa suit and must wear it during the race. (Then you can keep it.) Afterward, runners go back to Ri-Ra for a hot Irish breakfast (Dec. 2, 802-860-9401, www.rira.com, entry fee $35, includes Santa suit and breakfast, $30 if you already own Santa-wear).

To participate in the Santa Speedo Run, you don’t need a Santa suit, just a Santa hat and a swimsuit. The race began in Boston in 2000 with five guys looking to spread some holiday spirit by running through Back Bay in Santa hats and Speedos.

Now, more than 500 men and women run the mile race, and have helped raise more than $1 million for local children in need; this year’s charity is the Play Ball Foundation. (Dec. 8, register online, www.ssrunners.org.) Race starts and ends at Lir Tavern, 903 Boylston St.

Given the stress of the holiday season, who can fault Santa for taking a day off from toy-making to hit the slopes — especially when he can ski for free? Dress like Santa — we’re talking the full suit, not just a hat and beard — and you can enjoy the same perk on Santa Sunday at Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine. (Dec. 2, 207-824-3000, www.sundayriver.com.) Registration for this annual event begins in late November on the resort’s website. Participants — there were 250 last year — ski for free in their Santa suits, and get a free lift ticket to use anytime through Dec. 14. Everyone ponies up $10 or more as a cash donation for the Bethel Rotary Club’s annual holiday toy drive.

“This is such a fun event,” says Dana Bullen of Sunday River. “It’s amazing to watch all those Santas skiing and snowboarding down the mountain. It gets everyone into the holiday mode, and it’s for a great cause.”

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@earthlink.net.
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