By MARY RAINWATER
The magic and wonder of Christmas will soon be arriving in Palestine as the man himself, Santa Claus, will be spending the weekends hearing the Christmas wishes of children in his home at Santa’s Workshop.
This year’s event, called a “Gingerbread Extravaganza” by organizers, will truly be bigger and better than ever as it will occupy a 6,000 square foot historic space at the corner of Oak and Magnolia streets in downtown Palestine.
“This is our fifth year, and each year we have utilized more and more space,” organizer Marilyn Sheridan said. “We love to ‘adopt’ these historical buildings and give them a facelift for the community.”
This year Santa’s Workshop begins with a trip to visit Mrs. Gingerbread’s house, where children will build gingerbread houses, write (or draw) their letters from Santa and hear stories.
Their next part of the trek will be down Gingerbread Lane, which passes a large snow mountain and frozen lake — complete with snowmen and frolicking polar bears — and brings guests to the Gingerbread House.
“This is where the anticipation begins,” said Laurnie Durisoe, another event organizer. “The gingerbread house will have scenes of gingerbread people doing things in their world.”
The next portion of the journey includes a short trip down Candy Cane Lane to view the dollhouse, which includes scenes of children at Christmastime painting, baking, playing and more.
“We integrated the gingerbread theme into each room of the doll house,” Durisoe said.
A highlight of the trip to see Santa, for many, is the corral, which features an animated pony for children to pet and visit. Also nearby is the train area, with the Polar Express and the North Pole Express departing and arriving regularly.
“The corral and pony seems to sort of relax the children who are a little anxious about seeing Santa,” Durisoe said. “Being there seems to soften them and get them ready for the special visit.”
Last, but not least, is Santa’s parlor, a private area where children are first greeted by Mrs. Claus — many spending more “calming time” with the first lady of Christmas.
“Sometimes the children spend more time with Mrs. Claus than with Santa,” Sheridan said. “They get so anxious and she has a nurturing, calming affect on them.”
Volunteer photographers will be taking the pictures of the children with Santa, at a cost of $5 each for a 5x7 size photo.
“We have the camera, equipment and a good quality photo-printer already,” Sheridan said. “We just need a few volunteers who would like to help take pictures.”
When their visit with Santa is concluded, each child will be given a gingerbread cookie to take home.
New to this year’s workshop is a gift-wrapping area that will allow downtown shoppers or visitors to the workshop to have gifts wrapped while they wait. A gift shop also will be available.
The grand opening date for Santa’s Workshop is Friday (the only Friday they will be open). After the grand opening, Santa’s Workshop will operate from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Saturday and from 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays until Dec. 16. Admission is $5.
A dream come true
While Santa’s workshop has remained a growing success in the past four years, event organizers are most pleased with the “domino effect” of Christmas spirit that has moved across Palestine.
“It has always been our hope that more and more downtown shops will see what we are doing and begin decorating themselves,” Durisoe said. “People have been very complementary of our efforts here, and we have seen them get excited and begin putting out their decorations.
“It is so rewarding, so satisfying,” she added. “It just has a feeling to it, like a story of people remembering the downtown Christmases of their youth — of strolling and shopping downtown at Christmastime.”
Sheridan and Durisoe are very grateful for the support given by the many volunteers and organizations that have contributed to the success of Santa’s Workshop.
“Members of the new semi-pro football team all came out to help paint,” Sheridan said. “We mentioned to the National Guard that we needed some help and had over 20 of them show up.”
Several businesses have shown their support through the donation of supplies and volunteers including: Jeremy Dearman of Lowe’s, Adam Harding of Walmart, Anthony at McCoy’s and the local Sherwin-Williams store.
“The City of Palestine has been very supportive as well in helping us to promote the event,” Sheridan said. “Having their support makes the whole experience possible.”
Help is still needed, including decorators, elves, greeters, gift wrappers, photographers as well as tangible donations of trees, lights, area rugs and cotton batting.
To donate to or volunteer with Santa’s Workshop, call 903-724-2625.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org