Ephrata beams for Santa

By on December 2, 2015

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Ephrata beams for Santa

All the celebrities were there.

On Friday evening, the Ephrata Merchants Association rolled out the red carpet for the most cherished stars of the holiday season. Rudolph was there with his nose so bright.

Frosty the snowman was a jolly, happy soul as he greeted enthusiastic children. Santa made a dramatic entrance from the roof of Ephrata National Bank as the Christmas tree was lit.

Then there was the Belsnickel.

Dressed in a green robe trimmed with lots of white fur, the Pennsylvania German Christmas icon carried a switch and gruffly shouted, “I am the Belsnickel.”

The kids might have been frightened by this cranky character who demands that they behave and threatens them with a lashing from a twig. They weren’t. After all, the Belsnickel had candy.

ER20151202_santa154One little boy asked his mother, “What’s that? Looks like a shaggy white dog.”ER20151202_santa133

The mother smiled.

It’s the Belsnickel, the Pennsylvania German variation of the American Santa Claus. His name is derived from “bels” as in the bells that signal his arrival.

The “nickel” refers to the German St. Nicholas, a more direct ancestor of Santa Claus. The tradition of the Belsnickel goes back to Germany, and when people immigrated to Pennsylvania, they brought the folklore with them.

20151127_185446Dating back to the early 1800s – long before Santa – the Belsnickel would visit homes before Christmas to check up on the behavior of the children. He would rap on the door or window, announcing his arrival. Good children got treats, like an orange or nuts. Bad children anxiously faced the possibility of his switch.

Ephrata’s furry Belsnickel didn’t scare anyone. The children gathered 20151127_185657around and laughed, posing for pictures and taking selfies. He arrived in a horse-drawn carriage from Landis Valley Museum, and before long he had disappeared into the crowd, waving goodbye.

Not long after, the more famous Santa Claus appeared on the roof of Ephrata National Bank, dressed in red velvet with a white-trimmed hat and full snowy beard. A colorful light show above the bank building heralded his arrival and the big Christmas tree was lit in bright colors.

All of downtown Ephrata sparkled with the season, as the Ephrata Merchants welcomed thousands to Main Street, where the festivities got started at 4 p.m. and included movies for the children, holiday lights on all the trees lining the street, music, food and a laser light show.

ER20121128_Csanta49_2 A huge steam calliope spewed steam as holiday songs like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” filled the street. It was loud.

Owned by Raymond Kauffman of Millersville, Getz’s Steam Calliope produces the music that is most associated with riverboats or circuses. Like a giant, steamy music box, the sound is powerful and up close, it’s very hot.

Sadeha Tagye and her children kept a distance from the steam calliope, as the music played and steam rose from the metal pipes.

The shiny brass pipes glinted in the light of downtown Ephrata and the calliope-players performed a variety of songs using a keyboard next to the huge pipes.

There were also musicians playing brass instruments leading the crowd in carols that ranged from “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to “Jingle Bells” to “Frosty the Snowman.” Frosty could be seen dancing to his favorite song and greeting youngsters.ER20151202_santa82

Toyland was set up in the plaza of the train station, with a variety of toys and games set up for them, like a large dollhouse, race cars, a toy railroad and beanbag toss. Wagon rides were available, led by teams of white horses or black horses, all decked out in their holiday finery and bells. Sprecher’s store was lit with red, green and gold lights to the top of the three-story building, with a magical toyland of reindeer, trees, carolers and stars.

There was food, too. Street vendors offered pretzels, hot dogs, French fries, hot chocolate and sweets. Grandma Shrom’s sand tarts were a big hit, with free samples and boxes of a dozen paper-thin cookies for sale.

“I use my grandma Mary Ellen Shrom’s secret recipe,” explained Paula Cargill, who carried on the family tradition with the delicate butter cookies in cinnamon, lemon, pumpkin and sugar dusted varieties. “You have to keep all the ingredients cold to keep them crispy.”

This year’s event was bigger and better than ever, and the crowd rivaled that of the Ephrata Fair at times.

“This is really fun,” said ballerina Amber Dietrich, who was dressed in her glittery white tutu and crystal crown, performing as the Dew Drop Fairy from “The Nutcracker.”

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