AUSABLE FORKS — Rosy cheeks, hot chocolate and Santa Claus riding into town in a 1950s orange pick up.
This was the scene in the heart of AuSable Forks on Saturday evening as nearly 300 people gathered for a tree-lighting ceremony.
Parents, grandparents, children of all ages and even a few dogs braved the 35 degree weather, eager for Santa and Mrs. Claus to light the tree.
Before Santa arrived, Stewart's Shops handed out free hot chocolate and community helpers began sing-a-longs with the kids.
After the tree was lit, kids got the chance to sit on Santa's lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas.
It was a near perfect ending to the 7th Annual Christmas in the Forks celebration.
A SPIRITUAL START
The day kicked off with the 5th Annual Women's Retreat at the St. James Episcopal Church on Main Street, in which seven women gathered to unwind from the hectic holiday.
Deacon Patti Johnson, who led the retreat, said the day was a perfect way to say thank you to the women of the community.
"It started off being a gift back to the women of the congregation," she said, giving them a chance to slow down. The five-hour retreat included meditation, scripture readings and crafts.
The retreat was held at the church hall, which just three months ago was flooded by Tropical Storm Irene. Johnson said she was grateful that a portion of the hall was renovated just in time for the woman to come together.
As 2 p.m. neared, Patty Beauharnois, who aided Johnson in the retreat, reflected on the day.
"It's been a gift to us to be a part of this sharing," she said.
As the retreat wound down, across the street at the United Methodist Church, Cynthia Patnode, dressed in a festive vest, helped excited children decorate Christmas cookies.
Patnode said the Advent Workshop was a chance for the community to come together to reflect on Christmas.
One of the children eagerly sprinkling red sprinkles on his chocolate frosted cookie was 5-year-old Jacob Guynup from Peru.
There with his grandfather, Brian Millett, Jacob proudly showed off the stained-glass window he made out of paper.
"I think it's great for the kids," Millett said. "It gives them an understanding."
Behind Millett and his grandson stood dozens of other children and their guardians creating Christmas crafts, from stained glass windows to nativity scenes.
A short while later, Mrs. Claus sat in the basement of the AuSable Forks Free Library reading stories to about 40 children, as a dozen or so of them crowded around her chair.
In a red-velvet dress lined with white fur, she read stories of Christmas to the eager children.
After the readings, kids and parents sat around tables and made Christmas wreaths together.
And throughout it all, children had the opportunity to write letters to Santa which the library promised to mail.
As the festivities continued into late afternoon, musicians and interested residents gathered back at the St. James Episcopal Church for a couple hours of music.
And the day wouldn't have been complete without a few Christmas movies here and there, so the AuSable Forks Fire Department sponsored free movie showings of "Happy Feet" and "The Muppet Christmas Carol" at the Hollywood Theater.
Although it was a day filled with holiday cheer, AuSable Forks is struggling with some less-than-cheerful recent events.
Reflecting on this, Nancy Nugent, a library board member, and Susanna Carey, the librarian, stood in festive Christmas sweaters and Santa hats watching story time with Mrs. Claus.
"It's especially important this year with the flood ... and the accident," Nugent said.
Last week brought a tragic accident that took the lives of two beloved community members, Theresa Caito and her 7-year-old grandson, Henry Caito. Their car overturned into the AuSable River. And August brought massive flooding that has some families still rebuilding.
Carey said the basement of the Community Center was flooded as well in August, ruining many of the town's Christmas decorations.
But no one would ever know, walking down a Main Street shining with Christmas lights.
"You have to keep it going for the kids," Nugent said. "The adults too ... It's a spirit lifter."
Email Rebecca Webster at: firstname.lastname@example.org