The weather that prevailed in downtown Highland on the evening of Friday the 13th was more late-autumn dreary than winter-holiday cheery, but that didn’t deter a small crowd from gathering expectantly at the corner of Main Street and Vineyard Avenue. As the Evergreen Chorus sang carols and the Highland Rotary Club dispensed hot cocoa beneath a canopy in the light rain, local residents awaited the arrival of Santa Claus to carry out his annual duty to Light up the Hamlet.
Before long, the whoop of a siren signaled his approach astride a fire engine, waving merrily to the onlookers as emcee Reg Osterhoudt, chair of the Town of Lloyd Events Committee, bade Santa welcome on behalf of the community. The distinguished visitor from the North Pole climbed down off the truck and strode to the greensward in front of the First Methodist Church, where an evergreen tree stood bedecked with strings of lights, all unlit. With a flourish, Santa pulled the ceremonial switch. Suddenly the tree and the decorated light poles lining the downtown streets were ablaze with light, and a cheer resounded from the onlookers.
No time was lost in moving indoors to enjoy the rest of the evening’s activities. Inside the Methodist Church, a cookie sale was in progress while choruses from Highland High School and Middle School sang. Hot chocolate and cookies were on offer at the Calvary Church across the street. But the biggest crowd flowed underneath an inflatable Santa-decorated archway into the former bank building on the corner, nowadays owned by Ethan Jackman and used as a community event space.
The vestibule was decorated with silver snowflakes, and just inside waited a posse of “elves” — youths from the Interact Club, a community service group affiliated with the Rotary — handing out reindeer-antler crowns emblazoned “Official Member Team Santa” to the little ones. In front of the open door to what had once been the bank vault, now decorated with strings of lights, more young volunteers were pouring cups of hot cider from Minard Orchards, laying out trays of cider donuts from Wilklow Farms and filling bags with popcorn from a bright-red popper on wheels.
At a table in the corner, yet more elves sat busily assembling wooden toys. At another, kids were invited to mix a bagful of “reindeer food” from oatmeal and glitter, bring it home and scatter it on the ground. “It’s to sparkle in the moonlight to guide the reindeer to your house,” explained Carissa Parise, a member of the Events Committee. Noting the strong turnout despite the unfavorable weather, Parise said, “It’s lucky we were able to get everybody inside and hear the choir.”
The Evergreen Chorus had moved indoors and reassembled in front of the queue where small children and their parents waited their turns for an audience with Santa, a photo op and a candy cane. Most of the group’s musical selections were familiar secular Christmas songs, but at one point the noisy crowd grew noticeably quieter as the Chorus flexed its most ethereal harmonies, singing “Shalom Chaverim” in the form of a round in both Hebrew and English.
A shorter line of tots led to a smaller room in which Varsity Cheerleader Squad volunteers were doing free face-painting with holiday motifs. “I’m Rudolf!” exclaimed one girl of about four happily as she emerged, her nose tipped with red and her cheeks sporting brown polka-dots.
Clearly, it takes more than a little unseasonable drizzle to dampen the spirits of Highlanders enjoying a long-running town Yuletide tradition. The lights downtown will stay on through the holidays, welcoming shoppers to visit the hamlet’s cozy shops and eateries.