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Santa visits Dragon country: 79-year tradition lives on in Lindale

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When Santa shows up at Pepperell Primary, he definitely feels loved, even if “the kids bombard him,” said Assistant Principal Courtney Hampton.

“They are so excited, it can get crazy, but it is a good crazy,” she laughed.

Santa did indeed make an impression Thursday morning when he arrived at the primary school. When children — who had been lined up along the front of the school, braving the wind and the cold — saw the jolly old elf himself, a chorus of young voices called out “Santa!” and the cold was quickly forgotten.

When he stepped off the old Lindale Mill fire truck — which serves as his favorite mode of transportation in Dragon Country — he managed to make it less than a foot away from the truck before the gathered children ran toward him, arms open for hugs.

For 79 years, Santa has made a visit to students at Pepperell schools, arriving on the fire truck, according to Tim Reynolds, Restoration Lindale director.

“This is my 22nd trip driving Santa,” he said. “I love it. It is probably one of my favorite times of the year.”

The tradition started in 1937 when the mill bought the fire truck. “This is why we have the tradition of Santa being on the truck,” Reynolds said. “They used to always start the break at school on the Friday before Christmas and when it was time for Santa to visit the school, the mill staff would set off the fire alarm boxes that were placed throughout town.”

When the whistles went off, the school would hold a fire drill and all the children would exit the school.

Then, Santa Claus would appear, riding the fire truck to greet the students.

Principal Carmen Jones was a student at Pep­perell during elementary school, herself.

“I have a photo taken of myself with Santa when I was a little girl,” she said. “I was in first grade. That was just something West Point Pepperell did for the community.”

Now that she is at the helm of the primary school, she still loves seeing the tradition continue.

“This community is full of traditions,” she said. “To see the wonderment in their eyes, looking at Christmas through the eyes of a child is the greatest blessing.”

Jones added that seeing the generations of Dragons is also a fun part of the Santa visit.

“As you stand there, you get to see the grandparents, like me, and the parents and the children,” she said. “You know so many of them and you get to see that enjoyment all over again.”