By Maddy Vitale
Moments after rock music filled the atrium of the Ocean City Free Public Library and Community Center Sunday, Santa Claus whirled down the steps of the Art Gallery and into a crowd of kids.
He danced. He swirled. He smiled. And then he jetted off to a room where he waited to hear the gift wishes from a long line of children anxious to whisper in his ear.
“I want an R2-D2 stuffed animal,” Connor Barth, 6, of Somers Point, told Santa, of one of his favorite Star Wars characters.
Then Connor made sure to mention, “I’m not done with my list, though.”
Connor’s younger brother, Cameron, 2, wanted toy cars and, like his brother, he also wanted Star Wars toys.
The Barth brothers and about 300 other children and their families attended the annual Holiday Festival.
The free event served as a showcase for the library, the Ocean City Historical Museum and other facilities housed inside the Ocean City Community Center at 17th Street and Simpson Avenue.
As part of the festivities, the day included pictures with Santa, crafts with Mrs. Claus in the museum, listening to Christmas stories read by librarians, Christmas movies in the lecture hall and craft-making at other areas of the center. Cupcakes and other confections lined the room of the lecture hall and the entrance to the museum, all free for the taking.
Quinn Cherenack, 7, and her brother, Colin, 5, of Egg Harbor Township, searched for just the right pieces when putting together their Christmas tree crafts made out of multi-colored paper, glitter and glue.
Mrs. Claus, played by museum volunteer and board member Babs Stefano, pointed out some suggestions.
Parents Behn and Meghan Cherenack, said they make this holiday festival a family tradition.
“The kids love it. It’s such a nice way to spend the afternoon,” Behn Cherenack said. “There is so much for them to do.”
When asked what her favorite part of the day was, Quinn said with ease, “Seeing Santa. Oh, and making crafts.”
Colin said Santa was definitely the best part of his day, but he also liked eating some of the sweet treats.
The Garvey family also makes it a point to come from their Egg Harbor Township home to attend the festival every year.
Sisters McKenna Garvey, 7, and Gianna, 5, stopped over at the crafts table to check out what their friends, Quinn and Colin, were making. Within a minute, the duo got started.
Mrs. Claus helped them with some of their selections.
The girls’ mother, Christine Garvey, called the event fantastic.
“The girls get so excited about it,” Garvey said. “It is just a great time for them.”
For anyone who wanted to avoid waiting in line for Santa, or felt like grabbing a snack and a movie, they could head into the main lecture hall where “The Muppet Christmas Carol” was playing.
Throughout the festival, people poured into the Community Center to enjoy some of the many family-friendly activities.
Library Director Karen Mahar watched as crowds of children waited for Santa.
She said the festival is a wonderful way to bring the community together.
Mahar said the festival began at least 15 years ago, and has grown dramatically since then.
Mayor Jay Gillian also attended the festival.
He said of the crowds of children and families enjoying the day, “This is what the holiday season is all about.”
Director of Adult Programming Librarian Julie Brown said there are many reasons why the festival is special. One of them is that there is something for people of all ages to enjoy.
“We want to make it fun for everyone,” Brown noted. “The adults are entertained. The children are entertained.”
Brown added, “I’m really happy with the turnout. I saw a lot of new faces, and everyone is in the holiday spirit.”