Families gathered on Dec. 9 for the city of Lakeland’s second annual Christmas Festival hosted at International Harvester Clubhouse as they listened to the Lakeland Elementary Recorder Club play Christmas tunes. Under the direction of Dianne Davis, music specialist at Lakeland Elementary, the students played as the audience faced frigid temperatures waiting for Santa to arrive and light the outdoor Christmas tree.
Santa was escorted in Shelby County Fire Engine 61. As he exited the truck he was greeted with lots of hugs and high-fives by the children as he made his way to the Christmas tree in front of the Clubhouse on Canada Road. Santa lit the tree on a countdown led by Mayor Wyatt Bunker.
Afterward, Bunker invited everyone inside to enjoy crafts, face painting by Erika Bomarito and student volunteers, balloon magic with Mike the Balloon Man, and a visit with Santa. Thanks to event sponsors, Starbucks and Marco’s Pizza, the guests sampled hot fresh pizza, coffee and tea. City staff and student volunteers served hot chocolate for the children.
At one of the craft tables, five-year-old Breanna King wrote Santa a wish list before visiting him in his workshop setup in the facility’s newly opened Rec Room. On her list for Christmas were a roller skating Minnie Mouse and Princess Poppy Troll.
Santa had some special helpers in his workshop, helping him as hundreds of children shared their Christmas wishes. Ten-year-old Stephanie Cifuentes, Miss Memphis Junior Pre-Teen, made sure each child got a toy and candy cane. Miss Memphis and Grizz Girl, Chessie Biggam, helped youngsters put their wish lists into the mailbox to be mailed to the North Pole so Santa doesn’t forget what’s on their lists.
The McDaniel family has lived in Lakeland since 2005. Mom, April, said, “This is the first time we’ve come to an event here (at IHC). We’ve walked the trails at the park, but never been inside. It’s a really nice facility and the event is a great way to bring Lakeland families together. The kids are loving it.”
Written and photographed by Kim Odom, grant administrator for the city of Lakeland.