Nothing starts the holiday spirit quite like being jammed in cheek to jowl at the Snowflake Festival with hundreds of people, who, together with Santa Claus, are all belting out Jingle Bells. So joyous was the singing and so tightly packed were the people, you could feel the vibrations from voice to voice and even chest to chest and the effect was to bring a jingling, tingling Christmassy spirit to all.
“That was really cool. It was like being in the middle of a choir,” said eight-year-old Olivia Morris.
The Sir Alexander Mackenzie student had already seen a trial run of the lighting of the big tree in front of the community hall when she and her mother were on their way home from school. Nonetheless, along with everyone else in front of the hall, she turned as if in one motion to watch and let out a cheer as the white snowflakes lit up the night.
The light-up and the singing set the mood throughout the downtown for the event organized by the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce.
“This is our first Christmas in St. Albert,” said Katie Shey, who carried her two-month-old daughter Kali. “We came down because this is her first Christmas, too, and we wanted to build a tradition with our daughter.”
The smells of popcorn and candied apples filled the air and all the while the horses clip-clopped down Perron Street.
“What are your horses’ names?” I yelled to one driver.
“Banana and Split,” he yelled back. “My name is Todd!”
Once again, jingling bells and laughter echoed down the street.
In front of St. Albert Place, Eric Huang prepared for his 12th fire-twirling Reign of Fire show. In the audience were five-year-old Hayden Switzer and two-year-old Kieran Switzer. The children appeared mildly curious until Huang lit the batons on fire. Then they were mesmerized.
“He touched the fire!” whispered Hayden as she watched the man whirling and dancing and even kissing the fire. “Mommy! How did he do that?”
“He must have magic hands,” said her mother, Caroline Switzer.
Back past the chestnut-roasting booth was the Fill-a-Bus gang of volunteer St. Albert Transit drivers. Already there were toys filling the seats, ready for the Kinette’s annual hamper campaign. And back by the community hall, the line-up to see Santa Claus was all the way back to the sidewalk.
Robert Gould stood patiently at the front of the line and watched as his daughter Dahlia, four, made her respectful trip up to climb on Santa’s knee.
“She was born in St. Albert but we’re from Ontario. We moved here in 2008 when I left on a tour of Afghanistan,” he said, adding that the warm temperatures and the chance to visit Santa was what brought his family out for the evening.
Even as he talked, he never took his eyes from his daughter, who was dressed in a sparkly princess skirt and equally sparkly princess boots.
Gould had no idea what Dahlia might ask for from Santa, but her answer to a reporter, brought still more hoots of laughter to St. Albert’s downtown core.
“I asked him for a baby doll. A doll that looks like a real baby,” Dahlia said.
Gould couldn’t stop chuckling as he helped Dahlia into her coat. A happy family. A happy princess and a proud dad ready to trek back outside in hopes of getting on a horse-drawn sleigh.