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Christmas comes back to Suffolk

More than 100 people gathered around the Christmas tree at the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum Friday evening. The air was cold and still and, after opening remarks from Mayor Linda Johnson, a cascade of lights illuminated a 32-foot-tall tree.

The annual Grand Illumination Ceremony kicks off the holidays in downtown Suffolk. Parents, grandparents and children enjoyed hearing the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts children’s choir sing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “When Christmas Comes to Town” during the ceremony.

It was the second consecutive year that Chris and Alexis Whalley enjoyed the festivities, as their son James, 2, took a closer, wide-eyed look at the Christmas tree in Market Park.

“We’re excited to be involved in the community and get back in the Christmas spirit,” Chris Whalley said.

Dozens of children sat with their families inside the Rainbow Puppet Productions tent to watch puppets get into the holiday spirit. In the tent next door, the Suffolk Art Gallery and Parks and Recreation had crafting supplies for children to make their own Christmas decorations.

They used recycled and donated materials to make things like shiny pine cones and wreaths made from glued-together puzzle pieces. Presley Jernigan, 9, and her friend, Sylvia Broucier, 8, made good use of both glitter and glue.

“We were just looking for some family fun, and we all love Christmas,” said Presley’s mother, Shelly Jernigan, who attended with her three daughters and family friends.

People were dressed for the occasion as they waited in line for photos or Pourfavor coffee. Debi Ward was there with fellow Believers Church members, each of them with bright lights hanging around their necks.

“So we could find each other in case we got lost,” Ward said and laughed.

Group names like “Silver Bells,” “Shining Stars” and “Fuzzy Mittens” were called out for ticket-holding parents to get in line with their children and meet Mr. and Mr. Claus inside the museum.

Brooke Peters got a photo of her children, Kaylei, 1, Noah, 5, and Camren Cherry, 10, with the smiling Clauses. Camren asked for a remote-control car, and Noah wanted five different fidget spinners.

“They were excited, especially when he pulled up in the carriage,” Peters said about her kids. After delivering Santa, the Chariots for Hire draft horse and carriage took families on rides up and down Prentis Street.

Numerous families walked away from Market Park with Christmas jingles still ringing in their ears and the cold Friday evening.

“It’s been great this year,” said Emily Upton, special events coordinator for Suffolk Parks and Recreation. “It’s a great turnout. Not too cold, but the perfect chill for Santa Claus.”