Ephrata’s Christmas Winter Wonderland

By on November 30, 2016

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No rock star or sports pro could have received a warmer welcome than the one given to the jolly man in the red suit Friday evening in Ephrata’s town square.

Thousands who turned up to spend Black Friday evening together at Ephrata’s “Christmas Winter Wonderland” gave Santa a rousing cheer when he was spotted on top of the Ephrata National Bank building along Main Street.

The annual holiday event marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Ephrata with plenty of fun family activities, live music and caroling.

Seconds before the switch was flipped to light the huge Christmas tree, hundreds of people joined in a spontaneous countdown.

Excitement filled the air all evening long, helped by colorful laser lights shooting off the top of the bank building and soaring over the crowd.

Starting out the festivities were holiday-themed movies offered by Steve Brown and the Ephrata Main Theatre; “Rudolf” and “Grinch” movies for the kids and Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” for kids of all ages.

Characters dressed as Rudolf, Frosty the Snowman, and the Grinch circulated through the crowd, greeting kids and getting their photos taken with their young fans.

The evening was well-attended, with mild temperatures in the mid-50s, bringing out large crowds to the cordoned off Main Street. Last year, about 5,000 people attended the event and this year, judging by the shoulder-to-shoulder jostling, that number might be topped.

Apparently tired of baking cookies, Mrs. Claus also accompanied the fine old gent for a bit of a holiday vacation.

It looked as though Santa’s reindeer overshot their landing, as Santa and Mrs. Claus had to be rescued from the bank’s roof by the ladder truck of Ephrata’s Pioneer Fire Company.

Folks held their breath as the duo gingerly climbed from the roof several stories up and into the ladder truck’s bucket.

It was all pretty exciting for the kids in the crowd, who applauded and shouted, calling greetings to Santa Claus.

Having one of the best seats in the house, Blake Schofell, 5, sat on his dad’s shoulders while he ate a candy cane and watched Santa make his entrance into town.

“That’s why we came; to see Santa,” said Dad, Rob Schofell of Manheim Township.

Son, Hayden, 8, was delighted by all the activity.

“It was pretty cool,” Hayden said. “I also saw an elf up there and he was wearing a strawberry hat. We were here last year, too.”

While a long line of kids and parents waited to visit Santa in his cottage at the train station, the Schofell family was on their way to pick up mommy from work and planned to make that appointment with Santa at a later date.

Jamie and Samantha Kurtz were unaware of the winter festival until they saw the laser lights in the sky.

“We were on our way to Walmart when we saw the lights and wondered what was going on,” Samantha Kurtz said.

Son, Jamison, 3, was perched on his dad’s shoulders, taking in all the activity from his comfy vantage point.

“He’s at the age where he’s starting to wonder about Santa,” Samantha said. “So we’re here to see Santa, too.”

Finding something to eat from one of the many vendors and getting a balloon for Jamison were next on the family’s agenda. The surprise festival was a great way to start the family’s holiday, Kurtz said.

“It’s a good idea; this is a nice community and town event,” said Jamie Kurtz.

Teri Goshert, Ephrata, and her granddaughter, Hailey, four, were dancing together in the street after having watched Santa make his dramatic entrance.

“The weather is awesome tonight, and Hailey’s loving the music,” Goshert said.

“I think Hailey was more excited by the big fire truck than Santa because her dad is a firefighter for West Earl; she’s a little shy with Santa. But we found it to be very, very nice, and we try to get to all these community events.”

While Santa’s arrival and the lighting of the community Christmas tree were the highlights of the evening, the “Wonderland” offered several holiday delights for folks, many of them traditional customs of long-ago Christmases.

Horse-drawn wagon rides proved very popular, with families lining up for more than a city block for the chance to be pulled along Franklin Street by two massive black draft horses.

The “Big Boy Brass Band” played holiday songs ranging from “Carol of the Bells” to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” The popular Getz calliope also played holiday tunes, while games and activities were a big hit at the “Toyland” area for children.

“We just love this,” said Amanda Hurst of New Holland. “To actually watch Santa Claus come into town is one of our favorite things to do and it’s really nice for everybody to get together before Christmas.”

Hurst and son, Tony, 12, and daughter Jaeda, 6, came by to promote a performance of The Nutcracker by Laurel Dance, to be held Dec. 17 and 18 in Warwick High School in Lititz.

Dressed in a military uniform from the play, Tony said he enjoyed the music more than anything else. Like most of the younger kids there, sister Jaeda was spellbound by the loud, large fire truck that was parked close by and the spectacle of Santa and Mrs. Santa climbing into the ladder bucket and making their way down to earth.

“Looks like Santa needed to be rescued,” Hurst said. “This is great; we have a wonderful time here every year.”

As her family waited for Santa, Penny Way of East Earl checked out the two ice sculptures gleaming by the sidewalk.

The icy Christmas tree and snowman, each about four feet high, snagged their share of attention, with lots of visitors taking cell phone photos of the sculptures.

Way, her three daughters and grandchildren were waiting for a grandson who was riding a tiny train before they made their way to “Toyland.”

“Not only are the ice sculptures awesome, it’s amazing everything they do; from Santa’s arrival to the games for kids,” said Way. “The kids are just loving this.”

One of Way’s daughters, Tonya Mull of East Earl, agreed.

“It really is fun for the whole family,” Mull said. “The kids will be going to Santa’s house as soon as we can.”

Travis and Kristin Gift of Ephrata brought son, Sullivan, 9, to join in the festivities.

“I like watching the tree lighting,” Sullivan said.

“Yes, it’s me who likes to see Santa,” said mom Kristin Gift. “Last year we came to see the tree lighting and Santa, too, and it’s so neat that they shut down the street and everything.”

“I just like the atmosphere,” said Travis Gift. “It gets you in the holiday spirit.”

Michael Grimm of Ephrata held his furry four-legged child, Captain, a Boston terrier, as wife, Carrie, held the leash of Whitten, the couple’s French bulldog.

Both “babies” were getting plenty of affectionate attention from people passing by.

The Grimms recently moved to the Ephrata area and were eager to see what the “Wonderland” was all about, they said.

“We only live five minutes from here,” Michael Grimm said. “I’m surprised there are so many people here. It’s the start of the holiday season and today’s the perfect day to start it off. The weather couldn’t be better.”

“You can check out local businesses while you’re here, too,” said Carrie Grimm. “It also brings the community together. This is definitely worthwhile.”

The Christmas Winter Wonderland was sponsored by Retreat at Lancaster County in partnership with Downtown Ephrata Inc., and the Ephrata Area Chamber of Commerce.

Co-chairs for the event were Cindy Mellinger, Jim Brown, and David Boland.

 

 

 

 

 

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