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Starting the season

Event: Community Tree Lighting celebration marks beginning of holidays

Posted: December 5, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: December 5, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Aiden Waggoner, 5 1/2, of Canyon Country, mails a letter to Santa in a mailbox provided at the Community Tree Lighting event at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital on Sunday.

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The local hospital’s elegantly decorated tree might be the centerpiece of Santa Clarita Valley’s holiday season, but Santa Claus apparently remains the star attraction.

The 26th annual Community Tree Lighting celebration at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital attracted hundreds of local families Sunday and everywhere on the hospital’s property were abundant signs of the jolly man’s arrival.

A line of kids waiting to sit on Santa’s knee snaked through the hospital parking lot.

“I’m going to ask him for an Air Swimmer (a remote control inflatable flying shark),” said 7-year-old Fernando Rojas, clutching a half-eaten gingerbread cookie he made at the cookie-decorating booth.

Rojas, sporting a Santa’s hat modified to look like a whale tail, said the cookie-making attraction was one of his favorite spots to visit at the annual event.

Other variations on Santa’s hat seen bobbing between booths included green hats, pink hats and Santa hats adorned with black fur trim, denoting Los Angeles Kings hockey fans.

Shelby Myers, wearing her Junior Miss Santa Clarita Valley sash and emerging from the packed cookie-decorating booth, also gave the holiday craft attraction top marks.

“It’s the best because it’s cookies and it’s gingerbread,” she said, holding a gingerbread cookie slathered with green icing and rainbow sprinkles.

Her pal Karitsa Ferrell, also a member of the local royalty, wearing her Miss Santa Clarita Valley 3rd Princess sash and holding a gingerbread cookie (sans sprinkles), said cookie-decorating enables kids to be creative at Christmas.

Festive booths

Other booths included a craft booth that invited kids to make candy-cane ornaments and a booth where they could post Letters to Santa.

Booth visiting required patience as children picked their way through the crowd, darting booth to booth, parents in tow.

One young mother held a leash for a tiny white dog wearing a festive red sweater, while her husband close by held a leash for a tiny white companion dog sporting a matching festive green sweater.

Background music for the all-day booth-visiting was back-to-back Christmas carols sung by local talent.

A half-dozen singers with the Canyon Theatre Guild contributed their share, singing classics, such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Little Drummer Boy” on a stage by the hospital’s two-story tree.

“The Canyon Theatre Guild is always good about giving back to the community,” said singer Billy Davis, who just finished singing “White Christmas” to an audience of 50 seated event participants.

And, while snow may have been the only Christmas characteristic absent from Sunday’s festivities, the day was filled with the aroma of hot chocolate and candy canes.

David Galindo, engineer of the little “Number 9” train engine attraction opposite Santa’s chair, catered to a long line of his own young patrons as people lined up for Santa.

“The kids tell me ‘Go faster’ and ‘More circles,’ but then some ask me ‘No more circles,’ and I can understand that,” he said, holding the train door open for more young passengers.

“A friend told me, ‘You got to keep doing this because it’s the one time in the year everyone can come here and they’re not sick,’” said a hospital staffer.

Tree-lighting tribute

The families of Santa Clarita Valley residents who lost their lives serving their country since 9/11 were honored at the tree lighting.

Local military heroes honored included: Robby Wilson, Dean Glen Todd, Richard P. Slocum, Cole W. Larsen, Jose Ricardo Flores-Mejia, Dennis L. Sellen, Stephen E. Colley, John M. Conant, Ian Timothy D. Gelig, Jake W. Suter, Paul Gardner and Rudy A. Acosta.

At 5 p.m., after some encouraging from Santa and a sprinkle of “pixie dust,” the hospital’s holiday tree lit up with hundreds of tiny white lights.

At that point, it became official: Christmas has arrived in the Santa Clarita Valley.

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