NEWPORT - Some children are nervous or downright scared the first time they see Santa Claus.
Not Eli Hendrix.
The 7-month-old Newport resident smiled and grabbed a handful of the jolly old elf's beard as his sister, 7-year-old Savannah Offenberger, and Mrs. Claus herself laughed during an evening of free holiday fun in the village Thursday night.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Newport resident Savannah Offenberger, 7, left, laughs as her brother Eli Hendrix, 7 months, tries to take a bite of Santa’s beard — much to the amusement of Mrs. Claus — during the Newport Hometown Christmas event Thursday at the Newport Volunteer Fire Department’s community building.
The sixth annual Newport Hometown Christmas was a night of firsts for youngsters like Eli and a growing tradition of friendly reunions, food and activities for others - all free of charge.
"I was really excited for him," said Eli's great-grandmother, Pat Carte, 82, of Newport. "Just lucky to have my grandchildren and great-grandchildren (here)."
Carte said the evening is an opportunity for her to see folks she doesn't get to cross paths with regularly.
Hometown Christmas stops
Riverview Auto Parts & Auto Sales
The Peoples Savings Bank
B&J Carry Out/Fox's Pizza Den
Frontier Insurance/That Little Cake Shoppe
v Newport Volunteer Fire Department community building
Newport Baptist Church
Newport United Methodist Church
Source: Newport Hometown Christmas.
More than 300 people turned out to visit 13 businesses and churches around the village and enter prize drawings before converging on the Newport Volunteer Fire Department's community building for food, music by an Elvis Presley tribute artist and visits with Old St. Nick. While merchants wouldn't object to those stopping by their stores purchasing something that caught their eye, there was no charge for any of the evening's festivities.
"The reason we started doing this is just to give back to the community for supporting the businesses and the fire department," said Becky Felton, chairwoman for the event.
The celebration also included a cookie-baking contest and home-decorating contest.
The frigid temperature Thursday night was not a cause for concern for veteran participants. The first event was also cold and included freezing rain.
"They came out like troopers," Felton said. "It's been raining and cold and wind-blown, but it doesn't stop them."
Nor does not winning the drawings, one for adults and one for kids at each stop. Ruth Kiggans, 44, of New Matamoras, has come every year since the start with her friend, St. Marys, W.Va., resident Lynn Smith, 45. While Smith has won a couple times, Kiggans has come up empty.
"If she wins this year, she's getting (thrown) out," Kiggans said with a laugh.
Prizes included cash, gift cards and crafts, Felton said.
Sherry Farley, owner of That Little Cake Shoppe, which opened in August in the same building as Frontier Insurance, was offering a quarter-sheet cake and cupcakes for the grown-up door prize and a goodie basket for the kids.
"They come to me for cakes, so I'll give them something back," she said, noting she also hopes people will find out more about her business.
Oopsa Daisy Florist owner Sandra Binegar said she enjoys seeing familiar faces and new folks each year.
The evening is "a little excitement for this little town," she said. "It just brings everybody out. And if you say it's free, they're all over the place."
Newport resident Libby Ashley came with her children, Gwen, 8, and Connor Pitts, 5, and aunt, Terry Harris. Each had a different reason for being there.
"We like supporting the local businesses," said Ashley, 32.
"And we just like to get out of the house," Gwen Pitts said.
Harris, 60, said the evening puts her in the Christmas spirit. Connor was thinking about Santa, planning to give him a gift - a drawing of a snowman - as well as ask for some.
"He worked on it hard for two days," Ashley said.
Newport-area churches also joined in, providing and serving the food at the community building.
"That's our donation toward the community," said Newport United Methodist Church member Vicka Edgar.