From Washington Oaks Gardens to Flagler Beach, a Drenching of Grayish Christmas Cheer
FlaglerLive | December 9, 2012
They were dancing in the streets in Flagler Beach at the annual Holiday at the Beach parade on Saturday, while a few miles north, Santa’s helpers arrived in pickup trucks, mini-vans, and sedans loaded with toys and food at Washington Oaks Garden State Park’s annual Holiday in the Gardens.
Both sides of State Road A1A from N. 6th to S. 6th Streets were thickly lined with a wall of onlookers for the annual parade. But the parade, one of the longest in the local beach’s history (75 minutes), began without its customary Santa drop from the blue heavens, which were not so blue Saturday
As parents scanned the skies for the plane scheduled to deliver the traditional parachuting Santa onto the beach, word spread: “Santa won’t be jumping.” Santa can do snow, he can do wind, he can even do Floridian heat. But the fog that at times in the morning had visibility down to 100 feet just would not lift, preventing the iconic entrance of the man in red his elves, who’d have normally dropped on the beach north of the pier.
Attention turned back to A1A, where sirens blared announcing the beginning of the parade, but even then reality intruded: the first siren was actually an ambulance responding to a medical issue outside of Flagler Beach City Hall.
Favorites filled the parade route with 62 organizations, groups, schools and businesses, alonmg with the usual convoys of cops and first responders. Snow, white fluffy soap bubbles, came down on the crowd thanks to a local towing company, but as always it rained most of candy as nearly every group passing by threw the stuff to outstretched hands.In Macy’s style, participants stopped to perform at the reviewing and judging stand just south of State Road 100, near the pier, the halfway mark, before continuing south.
The parade ended as it began with fire engines flashing lights and blaring ear-piercing horns. And finally, with a late-breaking Santa, perched atop a Flagler Beach fire truck and wishing all a Merry Christmas (or a happy fill-in-the-blanks).
A few miles north on A1A at Washington Oaks Gardens, Holiday in the Gardens has been the official start to the holiday season for many over the past years.
The event started as an evening event with Washington Oaks Gardens State Park aglow in tiny white lights. When this ended a few years ago many worried about the continued success of the event–not only because of the entarteinment it provided, but also for the venue it gave community groups that used to event to raise food and toys for those in need in Flagler County. But Park Ranger Melissa Kafel says the daytime event grew in recent years, becoming a favorite for families.
“From the calls I have been getting from people it is evident to me that this has become an event for families,” Kafel said. “People have really begun to see how great it is and how kid friendly it is.”The meaning of the season is evident as each car is greeted by volunteers from Church Women United and the Marine Corps league, who accept non-perishable food items and new unwrapped toys instead of the usual park admission fee. It is not unusual for people to bring more than the minimum requested donations.
Last year 1,200 food items were collected by Church Women United, and seven bags of toys and $689 by the Marines Toys for Tots volunteers. Rain slowed preparations this year, but “it has all come together,” Kafel said, with great help from the Friends of Washington Oaks. Some 50 volunteers spent more than 400 hours preparing the gardens for the annual festivities. “This year we have added Mrs. Claus’ tea party to the event,” Kafel said.
The event began at 10 a.m. and ran until 4 p.m.
Some visitors to the park were unaware: they’d come for a day of fishing on the Intracoastal, but donated cvash all the same, since entrance fees were waived by the park for the event.
At noon the guest count was 500, and the number shot past 600 not long after. Park officials knew they were on their way to beating last year’s attendance of more than 991, despite fog that blanketed the area most of the day.
On Sunday, Kafel reported final attendance at 1,088 guests, with higher donations than last year as well: Church Women United collected 850 pounds of food. The Marine Corps League didn;t yet have a final count, but volunteers were confident they’d beat last year’s totals. The tea party (Santa’sn not its political equivalent) was hugely popular.Park Services Specialist Joe Woodbury was obviously enjoying his work on Saturday. A grassy area down the hill from the Visitors Center was full of happy children enjoying games run by local boy scout troops and other volunteers and rows of tables for children wanting to create holiday ornaments.
Kelsey Spruill and Sarah Fairchild, two 8-year-olds from Palm Coast, used their artistic talents to create orange fragrance balls with cloves.
“It’s not a surprise for mom since she’s here,” laughed Kelsey. Surprise or not their efforts are most likely now filling mom’s kitchen with festive holiday scents.
“This is one of my favorite events in the park. I’ve been working the kids section the past couple of years and there’s a lot of energy here,” Woodbury said.
Woodbury said he sees the same people returning to the event each year. “We’ve got over 10 activities and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. People come back every year and they are here for a long time.”