reindeerReindeer wrangler Mark Sopko brings his reindeer to a Christmas season kickoff at Sickles Market Friday evening. (Click to enlarge)

Sickles reindeerYou needn’t have lived here for long to deduce that the Greater Red Bank Green is the area’s uncontested, unofficial Capital of Yuletide/ year-end holiday hoopla. And you don’t have to be the poor soul whose job it is to stock the aisles at the chain pharmacy to know that the Season of Santa is here and now, and has been since long before the last unwanted bag of candy Halloween pumpkins hit the remainder rack.

This Friday evening, Santa’s helpers fire their first shot across the boughs of holly, with the opening of the Holiday Open House event at Sickles Market in Little Silver.

Scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. — and coming a full two weeks prior to Red Bank’s Town Lighting — the annual happening landmark doesn’t skimp on any of the jinglebells, whistles, trimmings and trappings, from ornaments, seasonal treats and artificial trees, to live plants, live carolers, and equally live reindeer.

Also making the scene for the first of countless local appearances will be Santa and Mrs. Claus, stationed in the Sickles greenhouse amid a display of winter blooms that include amaryllis, poinsettias, cyclamen, and hydrangeas. The Christmas Shoppe will be stocked with a selection of “traditional and cutting-edge” ornaments and home decorations; tasting demos will spotlight many of the items on the market’s Thanksgiving Menu, and members of the Monmouth Civic Chorus will up the ante on the holiday spirit. Then there are the reindeer; creatures who are described by owner-handler Mark Sopko as being “truly magical” with “a sweet, mellow disposition and big, beautiful brown eyes.”

Natives of arctic and sub-arctic regions of Europe, Asia and North America, reindeer “possess unique characteristics that help them survive very harsh, frigid weather,” says Sopko, of Flagtown. “Reindeer leg tendons click so that they can find each other during blizzards. They have an excellent sense of smell that allows them to find food, which is scarce in the artic. Their hooves are big and wide and act as shovels to dig for food in the snow. Both male and female  reindeer grow antlers that are shed and regrow each year.”

There’s no charge for the festivities at Friday evening’s Open House, with the seasonal display at Sickles continuing through December (and a shipment of live white-tipped Frasier trees scheduled to arrive next weekend). All in all, an ideal way to get the earlybird jinglebell-jump on the season of lights, and a cozy community-minded mall-ternative to the Black Friday freakout.