Santa and three of his reindeer brought holiday cheer into Hinesville on Monday with a stop at Bradwell Park.
“I don’t want to give away my age, but this is the first time that I’ve ever seen live, real reindeer,” visitor Kimberly Williams said, adding that her 12-year-old son Graylon didn’t know that reindeer really exist.
Three 6-year-old deer, Dancer, Cupid and Comet, attended an empty sleigh during the sixth annual Christmas in the Park event, sponsored by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau.
More than 24 organizations offered activities like face painting and make-and-take ornament decorating while others shared treats like cookies, hot chocolate and apple cider.
Nearby, Santa received Christmas wishes from children inside the Bradwell Park gazebo. He asked whether they had been minding their behavior, keeping their rooms tidy and brushing their teeth.
Four-year-old Jayden Santiago said she asked Santa for a new doll and a new stroller, while Jayden’s mom, Katie Santiago, said her Christmas wish is for the safety and wellbeing of her deployed husband.
For Santiago, the event was a chance to get her children — and others with deployed parents — into the spirit of Christmas and take their minds off of other things, she said.
Accompanying Santiago and her children, friends Kidanya Favaro, 8, and Khloe Hudgins, 7, said they both asked for roller skates and plan to skate together. Their favorite part of the event, they said, was taking pictures with Santa.
“It’s awesome,” Kidanya said about the event. “I can’t wait to celebrate until Christmas — it’s just so long away.”
Chamber Chairwoman Susan McCorkle estimated that 4,000 attended and said organizers were happy with the turnout.
“It is bigger than last year,” McCorkle said. “We had more activities and people giving away stuff to the children.”
McCorkle and chamber CEO Leah Poole thanked the event sponsors and CH2M Hill/OMI public works, adding the magical evening would not be possible without them.
Performances from Cheryl Brett Dance Studio, Dancing Unlimited, local middle and high school choirs, the Hinesville Community Collaboration Choir, the Mt. Zion Memorial Chapel Mime Ministry and McKinley Sartin & JP also got people into the spirit.
3rd ID Commander (Rear) Col. John R. Hort, Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver and Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas spoke before the tree lighting.
This year, a $76, 14-foot Leyland cypress serves as the community Christmas tree, and more than a dozen people and CH2M Hill/OMI public works helped to make it a possibility.
Uncommon Grounds owner Jenny Cole said business owners requested a centrally located tree with more oomph.
Jill Wilber designed the tree topper, which required about eight hours of work.
“We were looking for a wow factor this year,” Wilber said, adding that coffee shop customers became involved to make it a community effort.
Parks and grounds supervisor Kenna Graham said the tree has 1,600 bulbs, a mix of white and color strands.
“In the future we hope to get the community more involved,” Graham said. “As a matter of fact, they’ll be the ones doing all the decorating.”
And that wasn’t the only type of decking the halls.
Alivia Miller, 5, was wide-eyed and grinning as she used marbles to paint paper with red and green paint and glitter at the GeoVista Credit Union station.
“I love that!” she exclaimed.
“We came last year, and it was a blast,” the girl’s mother, April Miller, said as her daughter cheered excitedly about seeing Frosty the Snow-man.
GeoVista human-resources manager Frances Moody said helping the children marble-paint was great entertainment.
“I think it’s just the cutest thing, and the kids are just loving it,” she said.