Santa brings animals to MetroParks Farm to delight of kids

Five-year-old Theodore Sapp and his father, Tom, didn’t exactly hammer out the terms of a major treaty or piece of legislation, but the compromise of sorts they came up with resulted in early holiday cheer for both.

“He had a big list, and he practiced what he’d say and ask for” while waiting in line to meet Santa Claus, the Canfield man said about his son, a C.H. Campbell Preschool student.

Theodore was among the many youngsters who excitedly waited in a long line to climb into a bright-red sleigh in which sat St. Nick, who was one of the central attractions of the annual Santa’s Winter Barn event Sunday afternoon at the Mill Creek MetroParks Farm, 7574 Columbiana-Canfield Road (state Route 46).

For his arrival in the Mahoning Valley, Santa brought not only the traditional reindeer but other animals not usually associated with him. They consisted of a donkey, a goat and a miniature cow, all of which were sources of added joy for many of the hundreds of attendees who had waited in a line that snaked out the door of the unheated barn to see and have their pictures taken with St. Nick, as well as next to the animals.

The four-hour family-oriented gathering, which takes place the Sunday after Thanksgiving, also offered people an opportunity to make crafts for their Christmas trees, said Brenda Markley, Mill Creek MetroParks’ agriculture and education manager.

In addition, the celebration marked the farm’s final event before it closes for the winter and reopens in April, Markley said.

When he met Santa, Theodore handed him a piece of paper on which was written a letter that listed the gifts he wanted most: a set of Hot Wheels cars, Minecraft (a popular game that allows players to use blocks to go on various adventures) and Starlink: Battle for Atlas (an action-adventure video game). Beforehand, the child and his father worked on the letter, which also entailed condensing the list of what Theodore could ask for, Tom explained.

“I told him the letters and he wrote the letter down. He picked out the toys he wanted,” Tom continued.

Also relishing the festivities was Theodore’s mother, Krista, who said the family’s holiday plans likely will include Theodore dressing up for a part in a Nativity re-enactment at his church. The boy also intends to leave a plate of gingerbread cookies – possibly with a few sweet embellishments – for Santa’s visit to their home on Christmas morning, Krista added.

Also making it obvious that they are part of the Santa Claus fan club were sisters Gabby Gaetano, 6, and Paisley Gaetano, 8 months, whose shirts read “I love Santa” and “Santa’s sweetheart,” respectively.

“She said her sister wanted baby toys,” said the siblings’ mother, Theresa Valek of Canfield, referring to what Gabby told Santa during their visit.

One of Gabby’s requests was Beanie Boos, which are stuffed animals that are smaller versions of the famous Beanie Bears and perhaps best known for their large, round eyes, Theresa explained. Gabby’s having sat on St. Nick’s lap for the first time was a big accomplishment for the youngster because of her initial fear of St. Nick, her mother continued.

Theresa added she will host the Christmas festivities at her home for the first time, which will consist largely of celebrating the traditions of a holiday dinner and opening gifts.

Santa also welcomed sisters Sydney Patrone, 9, and Savana Patrone, 12, of Madison, who accompanied their 5-year-old cousin, Racole Turney, of Youngstown in the sleigh.

To reinforce their sense of the holiday spirit, many children and adults bought ornament craft kits for $1 apiece. The activity allowed participants to peel foam Santa Claus heads, snowmen and other Christmas-related cut-outs and attach them to backings, then thread ribbons through holes in the ornaments and tie the ends together to make a hanger for placing them on Christmas trees.

Designing the crafts also was valuable because it encouraged a greater feeling of family togetherness, observed Carolyn Oberle, a Mill Creek Park volunteer who oversaw the activity.

“In this day and age, [family] is very important,” she added.

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