Spruced up for the jolly old elf's first appearance of the season, the Santa House on Stevens Avenue twinkled on Saturday in anticipation of Santa's arrival via firetruck, courtesy of the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department. Inside Town Hall, the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland Chorus, led by Patricia Disharoon, sang carols as little "elves" crafted handmade birdhouses or had their faces painted by Danielle Chambers to the smell of popcorn popping.
Santa Claus — played by former local basketball and football coach Ross Kendrick — arrived to start the sentimental season shortly after 6:30 p.m., and members of the Arbutus Community Association lit the outdoor Christmas tree.
Generously supported by Arbutus businesses, the Town Hall and members from the larger community, Santa's arrival and Santa House have long been organized by community volunteer Jeff Utzinger.
"I do it [running the Santa House] for the kids," Utzinger said. "It's Christmastime and it's all about the kids."
Kendrick said Utzinger recruited him to volunteer at the Santa House some 20 years ago.
An Arbutus resident for more than half a century, Kendrick began bringing his own kids to visit Santa when his youngest, now 21, was a baby. He said he never tires of seeing the youngsters' faces and gets a kick out of riding in the firetruck every year.
The Arbutus Business and Professional Association, which sponsors the event, provides Kendrick's Santa costume. The hardest part of the job, he said, is making his way through the crowd into the Santa House located on the lot owned by the Ice Cream Cottage — an eatery next to Town Hall whose owner, Steve Moran, let Utzinger and a volunteer crew build the structure there in 2007.
"I love it," Kendrick said. "The Professional Association, the Town Hall and the Community Association do a good job of organizing a very popular community event."
Another Arbutus Santa who sports his own Santa-like hair and beard year-round, Greg Miller will appear at Santa House on Dec. 21, 22 and 23. Miller, a Scoutmaster, said that Eagle Scout Garrett Murphy, Troop 109 (whose GoFundMe webpage raised $405) installed new sidewalks, fencing and landscaping at the Santa House this year.
Community Association member Carl Boyer and his daughter, Jenna, along with Utzinger and a few other volunteers, installed the wooden sleigh, miniature Ferris wheel and nutcracker figurine as part of the exterior display that includes a pair of inflatable Minions.
Business and Professional Association President Bettina Tebo credits the longevity and success of the annual arrival of Santa, which draws upward of 600 people, to an outpouring of community support and teamwork.
"Everything is free," Tebo said. "And we hope to do more of it."
This year Arbutus Auto Body donated drinks and snacks to the party; the Y in Central Maryland, Ellicott City, provided the moon bounce and popcorn machine; and ReMax New Beginnings supplied craft activities inside Town Hall.
ReMax New Beginnings owner Debbie SeBour said her firm purchased materials to make 350 birdhouses, but that might not have been enough.
"That's how many kids come through here," she said.
Born and raised in Arbutus, Community Association Vice President Gary Clampitt said he knows to be good year-round if he wants presents for Christmas. Clampitt worked as a bartender inside Town Hall for the event, serving mostly soft drinks and some beer.
"Adults can have a beer, but we don't sell enough for them to get inebriated," he said. "This is for the kids, and awesome because Santa brings the community together to meet."
Relay residents Matt and Chrissy Lathroum brought their daughters, Hannah, 4, and Ella, 10 weeks, to the event for the first time. Hannah said she wants an "Olaf snowball machine" for Christmas and that she's been very good (her mom gave a thumbs up).
Kaylea Hartman, 5, came with her parents, Tracey and Michael, for the first time, too. Kaylea said she planned to ask Santa for a guinea pig.
"I'll call him Ginny," she said.
Ella Goralski ,10, of Lansdowne, has capped off her birthday celebration at the Santa House opening for the past several years.
Ella said she really loves "making all the crafts."
Members of the Goralski birthday party, Kathy Jones and her daughter, Rachel, 14, said they'd been coming with Ella; the girls all dance together at the Susan Ina Dance Studio in Linthicum.
Kendell Greenfield, 7, came with her mom, Angela Greenfield, and grandmother, Gerrie Greenfield for the fourth year in a row. Kendell said she planned to promise Santa to be good and that she wanted a Lego dimensional video game, a drone, a computer and the "Jurassic Park" movie.
Sophia Kendrick, 10, came with her aunt and cousin, Krista and Mat Wallman, 8, and their neighbor, Andie Suton, 10.
"I like how we get to play, hang out and watch Santa come in," Sophia said.
Lifelong Halethorpe resident Danny Coolahan, a fire apparatus driver-operator for the Baltimore County Volunteer Fire Department, drove Santa in with Matt Dize, Chris Andrews and Lieutenant-in-Charge John Bennett of Mount Airy.
Officer Jim Wickless of the Baltimore County Police Department directed traffic on what normally would have been his day off.
"I love doing it," Wickless said. "It's great for the kids."
All that appeared to be missing from the festival was Jack Frost, but happy townspeople wandering around enjoying ice cream cones from the Ice Cream Cottage on a mild winter's eve didn't seem to notice.
Santa Claus will receive visitors at 1348 Stevens Ave., Dec. 4-Dec. 23; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 20 from 2-4 p.m.; and Monday through Wednesday, Dec. 21, 22, 23 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
Arbutus getting more into holiday spirit
Arbutus residents may notice some more holiday decorations around town this year than in years past. It's part of something Bettina Tebo, head of the Arbutus Business and Professional Association, said she hopes will become a year-round trend.
Leading into this holiday season, the ABPA, along with the Arbutus Community Association and the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department, decided to take advantage of the holiday spirit to try to jump-start the beautification of the downtown area.
Enlisting the help of sponsor businesses, the groups opened the Santa House on Saturday and the Old Fashioned Christmas Garden on Nov. 22.
Support from the businesses, Tebo said, went toward funding the more than 300 gift bags handed out to children on Saturday night.
Christmas, Tebo said, is the perfect time to try to increase Arbutus' curb appeal.
Continuing the efforts put into decorating for Christmas, she said she hopes to follow up with more improvements to the business area's physical appearance.
"If the area is more appealing and looks nice, people are more comfortable," she said. "Not only will we be able to draw more customers into Arbutus, but we'll also be able to draw the right kind of businesses."