Christmas arrived early for nearly 300 children from across the city at the 65th annual Macy’s Operation Happy Children at the Macy’s Herald Square store Tuesday.

The store opened its doors early to welcome the preschool-age children to a magical morning that started with a special private breakfast brightened by lively holiday songs sung by Stephanie Marie Hanvey and spun by DJ Blaze. From there, Macy’s volunteers in elf hats led the children to the magical Christmas wonderland of Macy’s Santaland. Once inside, the children’s eyes lit up as they gazed at the twinkling lights, colorful Christmas trees and festive holiday decor before their special visit with the one and only Santa Claus. Each child received a toy and book of his or her choice from Santa Claus, and each received an exclusive Macy’s Snoopy plush toy, a winter hat and a lunch to take with them as well.

This year marked the 65th year that Macy’s has helped spread the holiday cheer to underserved children from New York City’s five boroughs. The store partnered with the New York City Department of Homeless Services and the Hispanic Federation to invite children from 15 social services programs that provide transitional housing, foster care, help for domestic violence survivors and other family programs.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for these children to take part in,” said Diana Caba, director of economic empowerment for the Hispanic Federation, a network of social services nonprofits that work to uplift families in Hispanic communities. “This is something that they probably wouldn’t get to do. A lot of these children are from families that aren’t leaving their neighborhoods and wouldn’t be specifically seeking out Santa Claus. This is a treat and they are really happy and grateful.”

Macy’s Operation Happy Children has become a holiday tradition beloved by the children it welcomes and the store associates who volunteer each year to make the event a success.

“It’s such a great time,” said Katherine Christakos, a team captain and 16-year volunteer. “I love seeing the smiles on their faces. They dance, they get excited about seeing Santa.”

Christakos added that for some, “this is probably their Christmas, being here and feeling loved. We just want them to come and be happy.”

Team captain Cathy Anderson, who remembers the time former Mayor David Dinkins attended the event, has been volunteering with Operation Happy Children for 20 years. “It’s such a blessing to see these kids—to see their joy and happiness,” said Anderson, who works in the marketing department and led the children to the Santaland® line. “Everyone deserves happiness.”

At the end of the event, Macy’s associate and 12-year volunteer Florence Fitzpatrick handed out boxed lunches for the children to take with them as they boarded their buses or headed home. “This time of year, it’s just a great feeling to be giving back,” said Fitzpatrick. “I know on Christmas that these children can open their presents and say that they have a Christmas gift and that Macy’s cared enough to give back. This is what makes me love what I do.”