FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- For the Alvarez family, the free horse-drawn carriage rides at Picerne Military Housing's 8th Annual "December in the City" holiday event was the main attraction.

On Saturday, Air Force Staff Sgt. Jose Alvarez of the 34th Intelligence Squadron, his wife, Sharon, and their two daughters, Haeley, 6, and Haven, 3, took a carriage ride down the entrance way of the Potomac Place Neighborhood Center.

When the carriage ride, drawn by a light gray Percheron horse, came to a halt, Haeley and Haven were all smiles.

"I liked the jingle bells [on the horse]," Haeley said.

"It was fun," Haven said.

The Potomac Place family joined about 1,600 other military families at the four-hour event that featured a mobile video-game theater, screenings of classic holiday movies and a visit from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

"It's a way to get the neighborhood together to celebrate the holiday season," said Meagan Murray, a communications specialist for Picerne.

The event began with the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus, who came in on a horse-drawn carriage. Children and parents cheered when the couple, dressed in a festive red and white, entered the foyer of the neighborhood center.

Mrs. Claus, who helped distribute free candy canes, said she is also busy on Christmas Eve.

"I make sure that Santa is dressed in all his padding and that the reindeer are fed," Mrs. Claus said.

When Santa returns to the North Pole after a full night of work, Mrs. Claus said she makes sure his favorite pie and slippers are waiting for him.

Children took turns riding the candy cane train as Santa's elves waved to them from the sidewalk.

Adults enjoyed the jazzy renditions of classic holiday songs performed by Phil Heiliger, owner of Maryland Piano in Columbia.

A catered lunch of chicken tenders, fries, hot dogs, funnel cake and soda was also provided.

Walisa Saab, wife of Maj. Michael Saab of First Army Division East, came to the event with their daughter Makaiah, 14, and two sons, Michon, 5, and Mykell, 7.

"This is just a way to kick off the holiday season," said Saab, who also attended the event last year. "I think it's wonderful."

Saab said she appreciates the event because it shows how much Picerne cares about families.

"It's not just about putting us in houses," she said. "It's a way for us to come together to celebrate as a community."

Sgt. Ted Martinez, of the 200th Military Police Battalion, and his wife, Reserve Spc. Krista Martinez of the 400th Military Police Battalion, are new residents of Patriot Ridge.

The couple, who came to Fort Meade from Salt Lake City in July, attended the event as a way of establishing new holiday traditions for their sons, Christian, 10, and Riley, 3.

"It's great for the kids," said Ted Martinez, noting that attending holiday activities off post can be costly. "It's very family-oriented and a way to socialize with your fellow Soldiers. ... I'm very grateful for it."