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Christmas melodies floated through the air around downtown Ayer last Saturday as the Ayer Business Alliance hosted its annual visit with Santa and horse-drawn wagon rides.

Ayer High seniors Ariana Sila, Alex Gyles and Shannon Gallagher manned a welcome stand, complete with homemade cookies, for parents and children waiting their turn atop the horse-drawn wagon.

Main Street merchant Jose Banchs, owner of J&S Business Products and a member of the Downtown Business Alliance, greeted visitors, decked out in a red and white Santa-style cap. He said that despite the raindrops (which from time to time fell as wet snowflakes), every wagon ride was filled for each run. “The kids are loving it,” he said.

Seven-year old Emily Russell of Shirley pledged to Santa that she has been a good girl this year. She asked for a Furry Friend, a life-like cat toy. “He said ‘I’ll se what I can do,'” reported Russell, “And he said to be a good girl.” She squinted while trying to ensure she was reporting back Santa’s orders verbatim.

Five-year old sister Bella Russell said that she wants “another baby.” Big sister Emily chided little Bella, saying she already had a lot of babies. But Bella’s mind was set — she wants a Baby Alive doll.

Between wagon runs, Santa took a moment to chat. He said that he’d talked to upwards of 40 children at that point, and was happy to report that his records indicate those children were all “very good.” He says that ensures that their homes will be included in his Christmas Eve flight path.

Santa said the most popular request was for an iPod. But Santa said, for first-timers, many children were shellshocked and didn’t know what to ask him for during their brief one-to-one opportunity.

Horsemen father-and-son duo Roy and Peter MacGregor of Maple Shade Farm in Groton reported they were ready to go, the wagon having filled around us during Santa’s chat with this reporter. Santa gave a candy cane and a warm “Merry Christmas” which brought the interview to a close. Meanwhile, while children queued-up to slide down the bench to talk to Santa during their Belgian horse-drawn wagon round-trip jaunt between Depot Square and the Ayer Post Office.

On the ground, the families continued to arrive, nibbling on cookies and wait their turn. Two-year old Abigail Rinner of Shirley was there with parents Jessica and Tim. She waited earnestly, bundled in pink from head to toe. “She knows who Santa is,” said mom Jessica, “but she doesn’t know gifts yet.”

“But she said earlier that ‘Santa’s beautiful.”