LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It was a good night to be a kid.
Phillip Pellegrino and Joey Tabbita, Braden River Elementary School students, got to throw the switch to light the huge Christmas tree on Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
Five other children got to ride down Main Street with Santa Claus in a horse-drawn carriage decorated in garlands and white lights.
Thousands of festive kids and adults jammed Lakewood Ranch Main Street for Holidays Around the Ranch Friday night.
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Joey Tabbita, a second-grader was enthusiastic, to say the least, about lighting the Christmas tree.
"It's like, 'Oh yeah!'" Joey said.
Marcie Alstrand and Pam Smith, both teachers at Braden River Elementary, were there, too, and jumped into a tiny tram that was offering rides.
"We are seeing a lot of our students and our neighbors out here," Smith said. "It's a good family event. Everyone is on their best behavior. It must be because Santa Claus is here."
Lori Basilone of Lakewood Ranch Community Activities said she wouldn't doubt it.
"I think he is the real thing. He's the best Santa," she said.
Kammeako McNeil brought her children to Holidays Around the Ranch.
"They can have fun and enjoy themselves. It's all just beautiful," McNeil said.
Students from Saint Stephens Academy ran a booth where children could make Christmas ornaments.
Tiffany Chinwuba, Tatiana Esparza and Cheyenne Fauvel seemed to be enjoying the energy of the crowd and the bustle of activities.
"I love it. It's a great way to bring the families out," Fauvel said.
Activities ran the gamut from strolling carolers dressed in Victorian costume, to sampling Christmas cookies and hot chocolate, and listening to music played by a DJ.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.