The Christmas season started in Ennis Thursday night with the best gift of all – an 8-year-old boy’s dad coming home from deployment overseas.

The Lights of Ennis Parade and Block Party is a decades-old Christmas tradition that winds its way down Main Street, always passing the corner office of City Real Estate, which on Thursday night, also served as Santa’s headquarters.

Children lined up for an Ennis city block to get their chance to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. “I love seeing the smiles on all the little ones,” Santa said. “and bringing the joy.”

Rachel Estrada was hoping for a little more joy than most.

“He randomly just breaks down and gets sad, saying he wants his dad,” she said of her 8-year-old son Christiano. “But we get through it.”

She’s talking about her son’s longing for his dad, Air Force Staff Sgt. Rigo Estrada, stationed at a U.S. base in South Korea since late 2016 – a deployment where his family could not travel with him.

He’s only been home once during his current deployment and missed Christmas with his wife, son and infant daughter last year. And as far as his son knew, might be missing this Christmas too.

“He keeps wondering when dad’s home,” Rachel Estrada said. “He kept thinking it was Thanksgiving. Now he’s just waiting on us to let him know.”

He would know after the parade down Main Street was over, when he had his own chance to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what he wanted.

“Where is your Dad,” Santa asked him.

“He’s in another country,” Christiano said.

Actually, he wasn’t. Because Rigo Estrada, after a series of flights that finally got him to DFW Airport at 6 p.m. Thursday night, was now sneaking in the back door of the City Real Estate office, just as Christiano was telling Santa his dad is what he’d really like him to bring.

Christiano was stunned when his Dad grabbed him, kissed him, and lifted him into the air. His Christmas wish was now staring him right in the face.

“Oh it feels great,” Rigo Estrada said. “After being gone for a while, it’s nice to be home around family and stuff,” the jet-lagged Staff Sgt. Said. “It’s surreal right now actually.”

“I feel honored that we are able to do this for this child and especially for the father because he has given his life and his time away from his children to protect all of us here in the United States,” said Amelia Valdez of City Real Estate.

“A good hot meal,” Rigo Estrada said of his next holiday goal. “And we’ll probably watch Harry Potter together. That’s what we like to do.”

But after Christmas here in his hometown of Ennis, Rigo Estrada will be deployed again, this time to Great Britain. But that’s where the next gift comes in. This time the entire family will get to travel and stay together and, hand-in-hand, get to see what gifts the next Christmas will bring.