AUGUSTA — Santa’s debut in the capital city Saturday afternoon took a backseat — literally — to Buck and Duke, a pair of draft horses owned by Dusty Haskell.

The horses pulled a wheeled wagon filled with Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and various volunteers costumed as the Grinch, Queen Elsa, Frosty the Snowman, Captain America and others.

It was the start of the Holiday Tree Lighting Event sponsored by the City of Augusta.

The wagon slowed to allow the Clauses and other characters to alight at 189 Water St., where children could craft ornaments, write letters to Santa and tell him directly just want they hoped to see under the Christmas tree.

Then the horse-drawn wagon and a second one returned to Key Plaza to pick up eager children, parents, grandparents and friends and ferry them across the river to Old Fort Western, which was hosting Christmas at the Fort, and then back along Commercial Street.

Abigail Costa, 9, and her mother, Jennifer Costa, were first in line for the wagon rides.

“We missed it last year,” Jennifer Costa said, and they weren’t about to have that happen again.

Abigail, a fourth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Augusta, had brought home a flyer with a list of the events, and the afternoon program had been mapped out by her and her mother.

After the Fort Western stop, they were going to make a Christmas ornament. “I made a purple one last year,” Abigail said, as she mused about what might be this year’s creation.

Clifton Gagne and his daughter, Mckayala Fairservice, 8, sipped hot chocolate while waiting for their ride. The two attend every year.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” Mckayla called out as soon as the wagon arrived.

Paula and Mark Toothaker, of Augusta, brought their twin granddaughters, Ashyln and Adreion, 7, who live in Livermore Falls to try out the events.

At Market Square, two reindeer placidly picked at piles of grain in an small enclosure, their delicate antlers branching out well beyond their heads.

Cocoa, 3, and Holly, 7, were watched carefully by Nick Papsis, whose parents own Pony X-press in Winslow. Papsis said his parents were at L.L. Bean in Freeport with a second pair of display reindeer.

Luke Lajoie, 10, of Augusta, said he was fond of the reindeer. “They are really nice and they have really big eyes.”

His cousin, Maya Lebrun, 5, also of Augusta, added, “I like their big antlers.”

Maya also was scheduled to perform a tap routine later in the afternoon with other members of Dance Unlimited.

“It’s a very exciting day for the city,” said her mother, Beth Lebrun, who works as the city’s child care coordinator, and was one of many who helped to organize the events.

She said they were hoping to have about 300 children participate in making the various crafts. She said normally the day’s events attract a total of 2,500 people, but organizers were hoping the warmer weather would help the numbers rise to about 3,000 by the time the events were be capped off with later afternoon fireworks at Waterfront Park.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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