Riding atop the Fairfield Fire Department's Ladder 1 truck, Santa Claus's arrival Saturday at Sherman Green was hard to miss.

The traditional welcome for the Man in Red at the downtown green's gazebo, sponsored by the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce, kicked off the holiday season with a series of festivities that included horse-and-buggy rides, sales of Christmas wreaths and crafts, and an array of community groups promoting worthy causes, ranging from the American Cancer Society to the Fairfield Christmas Tree Festival to Boy Scout Troop 199.

Patricia Ritchie, the chamber's president, said she was thankful for the day's sunny weather, although a blustery wind reminded everyone that winter is also "officially" around the corner. And after Santa finished listening to the holiday wish lists that youngsters planned to share with him, Ritchie was hopeful that "folks will shop small and support local businesses" around town.

Among the missing from the annual holiday festival was the menu of grilled treats provided by members of the Fairfield Kiwanis Club. "All their grills had been stored in a club member's house down by the beach and everything was destroyed in the hurricane," said Rose Corr, the new chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce's board. "Our savior for the event is Super-Duper Weenie, which has set up a truck in the parking lot."

Corr said downtown merchants also were grateful for Saturday's big turnout in light of the cancellation of the "Halloween of Safety Street" by Hurricane Sandy last month, the annual celebration of the holiday organized by the chamber that draws hundreds of trick-or-treatings children and their parents downtown.

And yet another reminder of Sandy's lingering impact on Fairfield was the presence of a representative from the Federal Emergency Management Agency among the community groups on the green.

Fred Grote, in FEMA's community relations division, said, "I'm here to answer questions and direct people who need answers.

"We're still on site in the community and will be until our work is done here," he added. "There are a lot of people in the area that are struggling still and we're here to help."