PAOLA — Little eyes peer beneath wool stocking caps as tiny ears listen intently in anticipation amidst the pitter-patter of raindrops on umbrellas on Park Square during Paola’s tree lighting celebration Friday, Nov. 29.
The Paola High School dance and cheer team members had already flipped the switch to illuminate the mayor’s Christmas tree that now rests inside the drained fountain, and local families are eagerly waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus.
Suddenly, the shriek of a fire engine’s siren pierces through the night, and children start pointing and waving as the vehicle slowly makes its way around the Square before coming to a stop on the north side.
Off jumps Santa Claus, and children stare in amazement as the jolly big man in red makes his way along the path leading up to the gazebo.
The tree lighting and Santa Claus visit are an annual tradition in Paola, and the chilly, rainy weather couldn’t keep families from celebrating as usual this year.
Nine-year-old Skye Anderson of Osawatomie was one of the first children to get to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what she wants for Christmas.
Superheroes were a common theme throughout the night, as 4-year-old Elijah Bysfield of Louisburg wore a Batman shirt to see Santa, and 3-year-old Kardell Byers of Paola dressed in a full Spiderman costume.
Anna Watson, 8, and her 4-year-old brother, Caleb, came all the way from Wichita to see Santa. They were visiting family in Paola. Anna came prepared with a list to show Santa.
Several young children got to meet Santa for the first time, including 7-month-old Jetlyn Dowd and 5-month-old Presley McNutt.
Families didn’t have to wait in the rain for their number to be called to see Santa. Many took refuge across the street at Town Square, where students from Paola High School’s developmental leadership class offered a variety of holiday activities.
There was cookie decorating, Christmas coloring sheets and supplies to write letters to Santa. There was even hot chocolate to warm everyone up.
After writing the letters, the children were encouraged to drop them into Santa’s red mailbox, which was set up next to the gazebo for the night.
The Paola Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the tree lighting event each year, also encouraged people to shop at local Paola businesses Friday, Nov. 29, and Saturday, Nov. 30, for a chance to win prizes in honor of Small Business Saturday.