Tara Shickton sat on Santa's lap and begged for a cat.
Not just some stuffed animal to put on her bed, either. A real, live cat, one that would eat and purr and bite her toes and everything.
But she also had a backup plan, just in case Santa couldn't fit acat in his bag.
"I want a two-wheeler," the 8-year-old said and reached up to give the jolly old elf a hug.
It was the first of dozens of requests for bikes that night in Brooklyn Park.
The four Santas who were visiting homes on Patrick, Taney and Ballman avenues kept checking off the same items on their lists.
"Ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas," called out one of the big, white-bearded men in red suits.
He waved at parents standing in doorways and straightened his mustache so that nobody would notice his other persona. (The rest of the year, he's state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno.)
"I love this tradition," said Jimeno, who began giving out stockings in 1973.
He's one offour men who play St. Nick every December and visit more than 1,100 homes in Brooklyn Park.
Three nights in a row, the men suit up andknock at the door in the neighborhood. Older children, who know Santa Claus arrives the third week of December, wait expectantly in frontof their homes.
The little ones are overwhelmed to see the merry elf arriving at their door.
"Is he coming?" asked 2-year-old Ashley Moon, peering nervously out the window. "When's he coming?"
But as soon as Jimeno the Santa walked in the door, she retreated shyly behind her mother. Her older brother, 4-year-old Nicholas, was a little more bold and quickly told Santa he wanted a skateboard.
Christie Whitlock broke with the night's tradition of asking for bicycles, dolls or skateboards. She looked up with a mischievous smile and said,"I want a Mercedes."
Charles Rines, who has been playing St. Nickfor 10 years, couldn't stop chuckling.
As he walked down the street, Rines admired the homes dressed up in sparkling lights, red bows and greenery.
The finery and the strolling Santas make Brooklyn Park "very special at Christmas," he said.
Even though the merry tradition has become more expensive over the years, now costing nearly $1,000 for the stockings and apples, the local civic association has no intentions of giving it up.
"This is a community endeavor," saidFrances Jones, head of the Arundel Improvement Association, which began its visiting Santa Claus program in 1947.
"The kids look forward to this every year. I couldn't bring myself not to do it."