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Santa drops in on Oceanside shoppers

OCEANSIDE — A red speck jumped out of a plane above the NewMark Merrill shopping center Nov. 26. A parachute opened and soon the figure became recognizable. It was Santa Claus.
Santa’s jump into a winter wonderland carnival set up in the shopping center parking lot is a holiday tradition that thousands of spectators come to watch every year.
This year a crowd gathered by 10:30 a.m. for Santa’s arrival at noon.
“Everyone knows Santa comes from a sleigh in the sky,” Cynthia Gonzalez, marketing director for NewMark Merrill Companies, said. “When kids see the parachute, they believe it’s Santa. You cannot put a price on kids’ faces when they see Santa.”
Rich Piccirilli, aka Santa, of Just In Time Skydivers, has been playing skydiving Santa for 10 years. He said it’s the kids that keep him coming back every year.
“I can hear the kids from 500 feet yelling and screaming,” Piccirilli said.
After the much-anticipated arrival of Santa, children enjoyed the holiday village of candy cane-striped activity tents and 7-foot-tall balloon Christmas trees. Toddlers through preteens sat in Santa’s lap, played in the trucked-in snow, took a train ride or watched a magic show.
“The snow is very popular,” Gonzalez said. “Some kids never get to go up to the snow.”
NewMark Merrill Companies hosts the annual free family fun day as a way to thank its customers.
“There are a lot of other centers, this is the only one we have Santa parachute in,” Gonzalez said. “It’s awesome.”
More than a dozen vendors and entertainers are hired for the event. Entertainment included a petting zoo, pony rides and contests. My Little Pony Rides brought in chickens, ducks, guinea pigs and rabbits for children to pet. There were also ponies that tots could ride.
This is the first year a BMX bike riding demonstration was added to the carnival. Pro riders showed off tricks and aerial stunts on a box jump and quarter pipe ramp.
“NewMark Merrill brought us out to have some fun with people here,” Lennie Westfall, a professional rider and owner of BMX-perts team riders, said.
There were also carolers in vintage attire, a stilt walker and elf face painters.