Dec. 12, 2003 – Emancipation Garden's crowd capacity was put to the test on Thursday night as hundreds of children arrived — dutiful parents in tow — to party with one another, groove to the live music and fill up on Christmas goodies.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull was the host of the annual Children's Christmas Party and the kids supplied more than their share of the holiday excitement. The parents supplied some crowd-control services, and members of the governor's staff supplied a bit more.
It was a scene right out of an island Christmas card: the park's many shade trees strung with lights, the bandstand wired for sound, a decorated pine tree standing tall and, just across the way on the Fort Christian Museum lawn, a nativity scene and an electric North Pole landscape.
Edgar "Baker" Phillips, one of the event's coordinators, took a moment to discuss the preparations. "We've been working on getting the park set up for about the last week," he said. "Even as we speak, the guys are beginning work on Government House. By Tuesday, this whole town is going to be lit up."
It's all the work of an unlikely group of Santa's helpers — St. Thomas jail inmates detailed by the V.I. Justice Department, as they have been under Phillips' direction for the last six Christmas seasons. (See "Local program changing inmates into elves".)
The truest symbols of the season, however, were the scores of wiggling, excited youngsters eagerly anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus. But prior to Santa's arrival, it was all about the music. Well, the music and the food, which was a plentiful supply of cupcakes, sandwiches and sugar-charged fruit punches.
As jingling in the distance signaled Santa's approach, the Joseph Sibilly School Sunrays steelband, which had been pounding out the songs of the season, ceded the spotlight to the Leonard Dober School Choir, whose members warmed the crowd with "Christmas Comin,'" a track from their very own, just-released holiday CD.
Also on the program was music by Michael J. Kirwan School students, the V.I. Lutheran Youth Choir, Ronaqua Russell and Crystal Hendricks.
The dancing audience slowed to a swaying hush when master of ceremonies Kevin Rodriquez, in a holiday hat, came onstage to lead the Christmas countdown. When the crowd had chanted down the numbers 10 to one — following a cell-phone call from the M.C. to locate the slightly tardy Santa — there was a shout of "Merry Christmas!" all around.
Santa, it turned out, had been delayed while commandeering one of the biggest Fire Service trucks at the nearby station, but not for long. Within moments he was at the party, greeting the crowd amid a barrage of sirens and flashing lights. And with his arrival, replete with his fire-gear-toting reindeer, the focus turned to the holiday tradition of giving — and getting — presents.
The governor doesn't appear to have cut the budget in that particular department this year, as there were gifts for all the youngsters ages 4 to 10 in attendance.
He'll be sharing the spirit of the season again with the annual Christmas parties for the kids Saturday on St. Croix, from noon to 3 p.m. at the Agriculture Fairgrounds; and on Monday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Cruz Bay Park.
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