For the seventh year in a row, Santa Claus ditched his sleigh for a red helicopter ride to Skyland Family Restaurant on South Boulevard in Charlotte.
Before Santa’s chopper arrived Saturday afternoon, boys and girls and their families enjoyed free cheeseburgers and french fries from the restaurant. Skyland owner Jimmy Kakavitsas said he offers the meals to thank the community for their support over the years and to bring local children some Christmas cheer.
It was warm enough to eat outside, where kids also had fun playing with vintage Christmas toys while listening to a Johnny Mathis Christmas record in an area set up by local historian Dirk Allman.
And then the ruby Robinson 44 circled in and landed in the parking lot. From the cockpit, Santa waved to the group, numbering about 200, that waited to meet him.
Children began chanting Santa’s name. He got out and was rushed by a throng of children.
In true form, Santa said many hellos, gave out hugs and laughed with a hearty “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and “Merry Christmas!”
Q’Mari Blakeney, 8, was thrilled when Santa gave him a hug.
“I got to touch his beard,” he said. He and his brother, Q’Shawn, 6, said they planned to ask him for video games and skateboards.
Landen Starbuck, at 15 months old, donned a full Santa suit and had a bird’s eye view of Santa’s arrival atop his father Justin’s shoulders.
Justin Starbuck, 32, said he’s grateful that Skyland has made Santa’s helicopter visit an annual event.
“A restaurant giving back to the community for the holidays – you don’t see that often anymore,” he said.
Desharn Hayes, 33, brought his three daughters – Makajah, 9; Keyana, 8; and My’Trinity, 11 months – to enjoy the food and see Santa.
They moved to Charlotte from Norfolk, Va., this fall, and Hayes said his girls enjoyed the Skyland festivities. The best part of the Christmas season, he said, is getting to see his kids excited and smiling.
There was a lot of that Saturday afternoon at Skyland, and Kakavitsas said he was pleased with the turnout and the children’s reactions.
“We just want to make them feel good about Christmastime.”
Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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