By Kim Jansen
News Report Staff
Christmas spirit filled the air, as hundreds of residents celebrated the start of the holiday season at the annual Hometown Christmas Saturday evening.
Long lines wound around the Historic Courthouse, as children, parents and grandparents waited their turn to participate in a variety of activities, including carriage rides, cookie decorating, ornament painting and, most importantly, seeing Santa himself.
Although many waited in lines for over an hour, the mood remained joyful and fun, as children played tag on the lawns while parents held spots in line and Christmas music performed in the gazebo filled the evening air with Christmas cheer.
One special person, Peppermint Patty Winn, helped keep those waiting entertained by handing out her signature peppermints and leading the crowds in Christmas carols.
“I have been to all of the lines singing songs and giving out peppermints,” said Winn, who has been dressing the part of Peppermint Patty for over 25 years.
Winn said the Hometown Christmas is a tradition for many area families, and she hopes the event continues to grow.
“It is hometown. It is Christmas. And, it gets the community together,” said Winn. “It is just simple fun, and you can’t beat simple fun.”
Throughout the three-hour event, the line for Santa stretched down the sidewalk, resulting in about an hour’s wait, until the end of the evening.
Two area families beat the rush and were first in line to see Santa Claus. But to be first in line, they arrived at 2:45 p.m., over an hour before Santa’s arrival on the Caledonia firetruck at 4 p.m.
Stacey Smith of Watson, who brought her daughter Raven Shields, 11, to see Santa said they have been first in line the last four years.
“We wanted to see Santa first,” said Stacey, who added the warmer temperatures made the wait bearable. “It is 100 times better than last year. It was really cold last year.”
Raven was ready with her Christmas list, which included a Deal or No Deal game for her DS.
Stacey and Raven were joined by family members, Chad and Brenda Smith, and their two daughters, Kendyl, 5, and Makenna, 8.
The girls were excited to see Santa to share their Christmas wishes.
McKenna brought her journal along, so she would remember what exactly to ask Santa for, which included a Rubix Cube, a Fidget Cube and a Descendents doll.
The annual Hometown Christmas, which is sponsored by the Downtown Effingham Business Group and Effingham County Chamber of Commerce, continues to grow each year.
Sandy Lewis, who headed up this year’s event, was pleased with the turnout.
According to Lewis, over 800 cookies were decorated at the event and 55 gallons of hot chocolate was served, so it was safe to say the attendance numbers were good.
“I thought it went great,” said Lewis. “The weather was fabulous.”
Lewis said the group will continue to brainstorm ways to improve the event, with one of her main concerns being the carriage rides.
“We added another carriage this year, but we still need more,” said Lewis. “We wish we could get everyone on the carriage that wants to go.”
Lewis added she would also like to see additional activities added next year, which she hopes would help keep lines small and avoid long wait times.
“We want to accommodate more,” she said. “We are limited on space, so we will have to consider branching out.”
The event would not be possible without the many volunteers.
“I appreciate all of the help,” said Lewis. “It takes a lot of volunteers to put one of these events on, and it wouldn’t be possible without all of them.”