Christmas carols, good cheer in the air at Pequot
On the lawn outside the Pequot Library late Wednesday, the scene for the annual holiday caroling party and open house resembled a Currier and Ives greeting card as two teams of Percheron draft horses pulled wagons of holiday revelers through the streets of Southport Village.
A bonfire near the entrance of the landmark library awaited the wagon riders to banish the chill.
Inside, scenes evoked Norman Rockwell paintings of a simpler, less commercial holiday time. In the auditorium, parents helped children create pine cone birdfeeders with Crisco and bird seed. They also fashioned Christmas ornaments with beads and stickers, and decorated sugar cookies shaped like angels and Christmas trees with colorful, edible toppings.
In the Reading Room, Rev. Laura Whitmore and members from Southport Congregational Church choir led the crowd in a carol sing of holiday favorites, while others sat on the floor by the fire enjoying refreshments.
There was singing outside, too, aboard the wagons as the horses made their way down Westway Road to the harbor and up again.
"Jingle Bells," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." The riders on one trip sang "Deck the Halls," so enthusiastically that they decided to repeat it, and a bit louder, as they passed the second wagon, as if competing with those passengers.
Percherons are no strangers to competition. "The Percheron was the first breed of horse ever to be used by knights for jousting," said Bernadette Graham, who works at Loon Meadow Farm in Norfolk, home of the four horses and two wagons that had hundreds of people lining up in the cold to wait for their turn.
"I really liked the (the wagon ride). It wasn't short. It was really long and everybody sang," said Ryan, attending his first caroling party at the Pequot.
Manik Jain, 8, and his mother Monica Jain, come to the event every year and have the ornaments on their tree at home to prove it. "We just love it. It's like a ritual coming every year. We like making ornaments. We have a Christmas tree and we hang all these ornaments on the tree," said Monica Jain.
Other families save their ornaments from the Pequot event year after year as well.
"We have ornaments on the tree that he makes here every year. We have two, so this will be the third," said Alison Keppler, of Fairfield, accompanied by her sons Theodore, 4, and Nathaniel, 2. The ornaments are not the only motivator, she said. "We come for the horses and to sing carols. It's a really nice family event to start off Christmas."
"The kids really like it and there's a lot of things for the kids to do. It's a nice thing to do right before Christmas to put you in the spirit, if you're not already there," said Eric Kempton, Alex's father.
The event really is a throwback to a time when people preferred doing to watching on television and computer screens, several people said.
"You stop and just have fun," Lori Kempton said.
Chase Reynolds and Mac Forehand, both 9 and from Fairfield, certainly had fun at their first holiday party. "We were mostly outside. Everybody's being very nice and letting us play with them, and there's food and everything," Chase said.
"When you get cold you can go to the fire pit to get warm," Mac said.
Daniel Snydacker, executive director of the Pequot Library, said the library staff and volunteers have hosted the community caroling party for many years, and enhanced the event about three years ago to help mark the season.
"People have come to expect it. It's a great intergenerational event. It builds and builds and builds," Snydacker said, adding that last year's party attracted about 300 people, while more than 500 people attended this year's event.