By Danielle Tadlock
News Report Staff
The smell of bonfire smoke and kettle corn was in the air in downtown Effingham on Saturday night.
Families and kids braved the chilling winds and gathered for the Hometown Christmas event, sponsored by the Effingham Central Business Group.
The group schedules the annual event in hopes it would bring more awareness to small businesses and get people to shop locally.
Before Santa Claus even showed up, families were already lined up at the newly-renovated Santa House to sit on his lap.
“They had to build a whole new building,” Roger Myers, with IGA, said about the Santa House. “The old building was so bad that it had to be completely replaced.”
The first family in line was the Shield/Smith family. They have tried making it a yearly tradition.
They arrived in line around 3 p.m., hoping they would be the first in line -- just like they had been in the past.
“It’s worth the wait,” Stacey Smith said. “We try to be the first family every year.”
Stacey Smith and John Shields take their daughter and niece to the Santa House every year. This year they were excited because the house had been recently renovated and looked very nice.
“We’ve been the first in line for a couple of years now,” Smith said.
The girls were very excited and couldn’t decide what to ask Santa for Christmas.
“I wanted a puppy last year,” Raven Shields, daughter of John and Stacey, said.
“It was funny last year. Santa told them he doesn’t deliver real puppies because he can’t make them in his shop,” John noted.
Santa arrived on the Caledonia firetruck, which was one of two firetrucks that responded to the St. Anthony's Hospital fire in 1949.
Families gathered on the streets, took photos and shook his hand before he went into the Santa House.
When Santa arrived, “Glorify,” the Mason Christian Church praise band, started singing their first song of the night, which was “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.”
While people were waiting for the horse and carriage rides by Serenity Farms, kids were running around and throwing leaves.
The line for the carriage rides was long. It went through the new Big Ornament that was bright and warm inside, serving as a shield for the cold winds.
“I had this overcoat on when I started walking around. I was going to take it off, but I’m glad I didn’t now,” Patti Winn, who was dressed as a Christmas character, said.
If people weren’t in line waiting for the carriage rides they were walking inside the old courthouse and learning about Effingham’s history.
This is the first year the museum was open during the Hometown Christmas event.
“I love seeing the kids excited for Santa,” said Winn. “It’s my favorite time of year.”
When it got dark, Mayor Jeff Bloemker and Santa lit the two Christmas trees in the courtyard.
“The turnout this year is great,” Mayor Bloemker said. “I hope this encourages more people to shop locally in our downtown area.”
Despite the cold, families enjoyed the event and look forward to coming back every year.
“We will definitely be back again next year,” said Stacey Smith.