By Sean Barron
Nearly everyone is accustomed to seeing Santa Claus flying high and traveling with his fleet of eight reindeer leading the way. But showing up with a two-hump camel, a miniature donkey and a sheep with four horns?
“Santa brought them along with him,” said Brenda Markley, referring to St. Nick’s furry friends that were a top attraction of Sunday’s Santa’s Wintertime Barn gathering at the Mill Creek MetroParks Farm, 7574 Columbiana-Canfield Road. The four-hour event, in its sixth year, allowed visitors to see nontraditional animals while appreciating an uncommon bent to the holiday, noted Markley, Mill Creek MetroParks’ education manager.
Markley explained to youngsters and adults alike characteristics of the unusual animals that included the camel common in Mongolia and Africa, a one-hump camel, a baby yak typically found in Tibet, miniature donkeys native to Mediterranean regions and pygmy goats relatively new to the U.S.
“They came here originally with the circus but have been around 25 or 30 years or so,” Markley said of the small goats.
Of course, any family-friendly Christmas program would be incomplete without Santa himself. During Sunday’s event, St. Nick made his lap available for children, including 8-year-old Max Hemmis of Edinburg, Pa. “I told Santa that I want a video game and a Lego set,” an excited Max said after having voiced his wishes to Santa Claus while his parents, Jason and Paige Hemmis, took their picture.
Max, a third-grader at Holy Family Preschool in Poland and a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, said art is one of his favorite subjects, adding that he also enjoys reading and playing football.
“We’ve been coming [to the event] every year since he was 2” and since having moved from Erie, Pa., said Paige, a Holy Family preschool teacher.
For his part, Santa Claus has a tight schedule during the next few weeks that includes appearances at several area churches, a Lighting of the Green ceremony in Warren and a stop at Park Vista Retirement on Youngstown’s North Side. Also on his list are trips to the Cleveland area, he said.
In addition to the animals, the gathering featured a gift shop with farm-related toys, books and T-shirts sold by Kimberly Moff, an agricultural educator and MetroParks’ photographer.
Examples were a variety of books on farm animals and farming techniques, stuffed animals, wind-up toy insects, baseball caps shaped like ducks, a wide range of small toy animals and insect-shaped finger puppets.
Also on hand were copies of “A Walk in the Garden,” which is a collection of poems sixth-graders at Chaney High School wrote and illustrated that pertain to Mill Creek MetroParks’ Fellows Riverside Gardens.
Proceeds will help help fund children’s programs and the future development of the gardens, Moff said, noting that the book also is available at the park. Many youngsters who desired to let their creative juices flow had fun making holiday ornaments such as self-adhesive candy canes and mittens, said Jordan Rohaley, a MetroParks Farm educator.
Older children got to create, design and take home more-complex Christmas trees and snowflakes, Rohaley added.