ROCKINGHAM — Nobody dreams of a “wet” Christmas on the Square, but that’s what Rockingham residents got on Saturday.
Now in its 21st year, the event drew a strong morning crowd to Harrington Square to see performances by local artists and to patronize the 98 vendors offering handmade crafts alongside turkey legs and funnel cake.
St. Nick also stopped by to meet with his constituents.
By 11:30 a.m., the cold rain had intensified and the crowd had thinned out considerably. Santa and the dancers with Bold Moves had to move indoors and a performance by the East Rockingham Middle School choir was cancelled to keep the kids from getting sick.
But veteran vendors like Kathie Jones came prepared.
Jones cooked her grandmother’s cinnamon bun recipe, along with other winter treats, for the event. She has been a vendor at Christmas on the Square at least seven times and said she knows every other year, it’s going to rain.
“Last year it was beautiful so I knew what we were coming in to,” Jones said. “That’s kind of why I’ve learned to put things in plastic bags and bring a towel….and keep going.”
Carolyn Ford, chairperson for Christmas on the Square, said there were about 30 first-time vendors. One of those was the Santa’s Daughter’s Workshop, which is a more literal name than you might think.
It refers to Rockingham’s own Santa Claus, the late Bill Lassiter, who for more than 40 years played the part by handing out toys from a big red sleigh, donning the suit and maintaining the iconic beard.
“He was the real Santa, he really was,” said his granddaughter, Cassie Tyler, who was working the Santa’s Daughter’s Workshop booth.
Lassiter owned Lassiter Surplus in West Rockingham where he came into possession of a tractor-trailer full of cabinet doors which he left to his daughter, Lori Patrick, after his death on May 1. Patrick began to pick through the doors and turned them into home decorations, for the holidays and other occasions.
The doors have been painted with positive phrases and sayings, such as “It is well with my soul,” “Joy,” or “Believe” hand-painted in artful lettering. There are also some with poems or Bible verses on them, and others with sheet music to classic hymns cut out and framed on rugged boards. One hymn included was “How Strong and Sweet My Father’s Care.”
“I just kind of started making boards so that a little piece of my daddy can be in people’s homes,” Patrick said. “It’s kind of been my therapy.”
Patrick, 48, said she has fond memories of riding with her father to deliver toys when she was young. The toys were often donated by local businesses or individuals.
“(Rockingham residents) didn’t have anything back then so Daddy would load that sleigh up on the back of his truck and we would deliver the toys to the needy families,” she said.
Once the rain cleared up, the performers and the crowd came back out to the square. Ford said the crowd wasn’t as big as it normally is for Christmas on the Square due to the poor weather, but that the event “did very well, considering.” The Richmond Senior High School marching band and local singer Ally Roberts were among the afternoon performers.
Arts Richmond opened its doors to showcase local art and invited guests to filter in from the outdoor festivities for a “social painting” session. Materials were provided and guests all painted the same object.
Cayce Williams said she had never painted before. She and her son, Conner, painted a picture of a Christmas ornament together.
“Everybody does the same thing but how you interpret it is up to you,” said Susan Perkins, a retired art teacher and now Arts Richmond Board member. “What I see when I teach a (social painting) class is some people have never painted before — ever — and they really have a good time. Some people are regulars and they help each other out, so it’s almost like being back in the classroom for me. They’re so excited when they leave that they’ve actually done a painting.”
Ford said the event netted two boxes of toys for Toys for Tots and any money left over from Christmas on the Square rolls over to be used for next year.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]