OSWEGO, NY – The Port City officially lit up for the holidays Thursday night.
The temperature stuck around 32 as thick purple clouds full of snow hung over the crowd.
The precipitation held off and spirits remained high as hundreds of people huddled in Civic Plaza to witness the city’s 23rd annual Children’s Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony.
Oswego Mayor Randy Bateman welcomed the crowd and thanked everyone involved in the event for making it a success again this year.
Pastor Bruce Schrader presided over the lighting of the Nativity scene and Rabbi Yossi Madvig officiated over the lighting of the menorah to welcome the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. This year, the first day of Hanukkah began at sundown Wednesday.
The winners of the scholastic holiday poem writing contest were announced. The first place finishers read their poems to the large crowd.
Earning first place honors were Leah Mullen, a fifth grader from Minetto Elementary; and William Bandla, a sixth grader from Kingsford Park Elementary.
William said he just thought about the theme this year – Sharing for the Holidays – and started writing. He was glad his friend, Leah, also won, he added.
The winners received savings bonds from Pathfinder Bank.
Santa Claus made his arrival a few moments later aboard a city fire truck – his eight tiny reindeer rested up for their whirlwind worldwide Dec. 24 mission.
He asked the children to help him increase the size of his “nice” list and make the “naughty” list as small as possible.
“You’ve made me oh so proud children. My nice list is so big,” Santa told the children as he stretched his arms wide apart. “My naughty is this small,” he added holding his thumb and index finger about an inch apart.
They should be good each and every day, he told them. He asked them to stop fighting, share their toys and they should help out around the house.
“The vacuum cleaner doesn’t bite and you won’t get dishpan hands,” he said.
“When you’re done with your toys, children, put them away. That’s not mom’s job,” he added.
Santa told the children he might not be able to bring everything they asked for. He needed to be sure he had enough gifts for every child in the world.
On Christmas morning, if they find they haven’t received everything they asked for, Santa told the children to smile and say thank you for the gifts they didn’t receive.
“For these are the gifts that (the children) shared with others so that they too may have a merry Christmas,” he said. “Sharing is the most precious gift of all.”
The mayor then led the crowd in the countdown and the tree was aglow in holiday splendor. The lights danced as the winds rocked the tree back and forth.
Santa then invited the children to come into City Hall and visit with him.
The line of parents and their children snaked down the stairway and out into the plaza. Santa paid close attention to every child as they visited with him and shared their Christmas wish lists. Approximately 650 children and their parents waited in line to visit with Santa.
Children’s lists included everything from books and board games to the latest high-tech gadgets.
As each youngster climbed (or was placed) on Santa’s lap, they all had specific ideas of what they wanted to find under their tree.
Some, however, needed a little parental prodding to talk to Santa.
Santa said he made a mental note of each request and gave each child a candy cane before telling them he see them again, when they were sleeping, on Dec. 24.
Youngsters who visited Santa didn’t have to leave right away. The Common Council Chambers were transformed into Elf Land with plenty of holiday activities for the youngsters.
Instrumental music was provided by students from Trinity Catholic School.
The Oswego opera Theater Chorus Carolers performed a variety of Christmas classics.
The Snowbelters performed outside while waiting for Santa to arrive. They sang some holiday favorites including “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas.”
In keeping with this year’s theme, Madison Malone created an ornament, a white dove with a banner reading “Peace,” and presented it to Mayor Bateman as an early holiday gift.
“It was just something that I wanted to do,” the young lady explained.