ALEXANDRIA BAY, N.Y. (WWTI) — The River Santa Festival in Alexandria Bay officially began at 10 a.m. on Saturday and hundreds of North Country residents came out to enjoy the event. This was the sixth year the event has taken place after the event was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Doug Tulloch was the Founder and Co-Chair of the event and said there were plenty of things to help residents could get into the holiday spirit. This included hay wagon rides, a showing of the Christmas movie “Elf”, free food, and even donkeys that attendees could visit.

Following tradition, Santa Claus arrived by boat at 11 a.m. with a U.S. Coast Guard escort. Children and their families lined up around the dock to watch the grand entrance just as the snow began to fall. Resident Karen Rockoff described it as a magical experience.

“We couldn’t believe, the snow started the second Santa arrived, and are completely overwhelmed by the magic of this,” Rockoff said.

Santa then took a seat and began handing out the 650 gifts that were made possible by community donations. Tulloch said he was thankful for the community’s support that made the event possible, however, a large portion of the funds came from Tulloch jumping into the river which got as cold as 42 degrees.

“Just the community’s support and donations and everybody loving this event. We need it this time of year,” Tulloch said. “Maybe $15,000 of all of this by making challenges and people put up the money, and I take a swim.”

Rockoff mentioned that she had recently just sold her Florida home to live on Wellesly Island full time. She said after attending the event today she has no regrets.

“Every kid here gets a gift, and how much they give back to the community,” Rockoff said. “There’s incredible donations back to everyone. This community is why we wanted to be here year-round because everyone cares about each other so much.”

Tulloch said the event is continuing to grow, and that he believes this year’s numbers have doubled since the event last took place in 2019. He also assured residents that if they missed out this year, there will be opportunities to attend in the years to come. 

“If anybody happens to see this that hasn’t been able to make it and you don’t make it this year, make it another year.”

Rockoff finished by saying that the event was an amazing way to get into the Christmas spirit. 

“This is the best Christmas present of all, to be here today with these wonderful people,” Rockoff said.