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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Spirit of Christmas Alive and Well in Southport

Spirit of Christmas 
Alive and Well in Southport:
Crowd braves chilly temps to 
mark annual holiday walk
(Appeared on 12/9)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Southport, CT – Temperatures hovered in the mid-20s but that didn’t stop several hundred people – and Santa – from visiting Southport Village’s annual Christmas Walk and enjoying the spirit of the holiday.

The event, hosted by the Southport Merchants Association in conjunction with the Southport Volunteer Fire Dept., was held from 5-7pm on Wed. Dec. 9, with Spic and Span Market at 329 Pequot Ave. at its center point.

About the event’s origin, Gregory Peck, owner of Spic and Span, said, “Merchants way back when wanted to enhance attention to the Village, but also do something for the community and kids. This has snowballed over the years and is something the area really looks forward to.”

In front of the market, Paul Whitmore, minister at Southport Congregational Church, kicked off the singing of holiday songs with a rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. He has enjoyed this role for the past 16 years.

Looking on with her daughter and friends, Fairfielder Katie Graham said, “We do this every year. It’s a tradition for us and Paul is our minister.” Despite the bone chilling temps, Graham opined, “It’s not as cold as it’s been in other years. I’ve been here in rain and sleet, so this is not bad at all.”

Beside her, Graham’s friend Wendy Lien, with her daughter Miranda, 7, and son Max, 2, said, “We’re happy to be here. I’m waiting for this little guy to get up and sing, but he’s so bundled up he can barely move.”

A crowd quickly gathered in the Village center and joined in the caroling, sipped hot chocolate and hopped up and down to stay warm. Among them was Eileen O’Reilly and daughter Esa, 2, who donned a knit cap. “This is Esa’s first Christmas,” said O’Reilly. “She was adopted from Mexico. There’s nothing like seeing this through your children’s eyes. This is a special small town moment.”

Nearby, Gary Jackson, wife Joan, and grandkids Johanna, 8, and Drew, 6, agreed. “Surprisingly, this is the first time we’ve done this… and we’ve lived here 40 years. It’s really wonderful.”

In the distance, a siren wailed, signaling Santa’s arrival atop Southport Squad 14’s special unit truck. The crowd craned their necks for a look as the truck rumbled up Pequot Ave. and pulled to a stop. From a box, Santa scooped up and flipped popcorn balls into eager hands. Emery Wallace, 12, wearing an antler hat, was a lucky recipient, but passed it off to a friend’s little sister. “We always come every year. It’s really exciting to see Santa and everything,” she said.

Looking quite ruddy-faced, Santa set himself up in a chair at The Russell Agency, next to Southport Pizza, to receive children. One visitor was Vivienne Kraus, 10, on hand with her twin sister Margaret and dad Bill. “I asked for something big, warm and fuzzy,” Vivienne chirped.

At a back room table, agency owner Tim Russell and Nick Ruicholdt offered wine, beer and nibblies. Russell said, “We’re delighted to have Santa come visit us. It’s an honor.”

Enjoying the snacks, Jeannie Walker-Wright, a resident of nearby Main Street, said, “I had just finished putting up my lights and switched them on to check them just as Santa turned the corner. He called out ‘Thank you!’ and I said ‘Merry Christmas!’ It was the perfect moment and made my holiday.”

Across the street inside Chase Bank, the all-girl Harbor Blues a capella group from Greens Farms Academy, under the direction of Betsy Bergeron and student Elizabeth Woodson, had begun singing carols. They, and a small band of visitors, were handed candles, the lights were dimmed and a small living tree just outside (dubbed “The Tree of Light”) was illuminated. Each tree light had its own sponsor and all donations benefited underinsured or uninsured who are Hospice At Home patients of Visiting Nurse Services of Connecticut.

Minister Whitmore offered a prayer that aptly summed up the festive mood. “Though we do feel the chill in the air around us, there’s a different kind of radiance tonight. We find the true spirit of Christmas alive and well in Southport.”