Christmas celebration: Hills & Dales hosts annual holiday tradition

Published 4:54 pm Monday, December 17, 2018

Little hands carefully placed gumdrops and marshmallow snowmen around gingerbread houses at the Hills & Dales Estate’s visitor center on Saturday during its ninth annual Children’s Christmas Celebration.

The event was once again met with excited children and parents, eager to take part in what has become a local holiday tradition.

“I think [I look forward to] just her enthusiasm,” said Rhonda Harpole, who attends the event with her daughter Maddie every year. 

“It is well put together, and she really enjoys coming. She looks forward to it every year.”

Maddie said that her favorite part of the event was the gingerbread houses, even as she looked excitedly toward Santa Claus.

“I think this is something that the community looks forward to every year, the same as the Halloween trick-or-treating,” said Christy Gresley, the communications manager at Hills & Dales Estate. 

“It is an opportunity for a lot of families to spend time together and kick off the holidays, and it is something that they think of every year when they think of Christmas. They associate it with coming to see Santa and building gingerbread houses at Hills & Dales, and then hopefully they’ll bring their families back once they come back for a tour later on.”

Gresley joked that her office was full of candy for weeks in preparation for the event, and she emphasized how the staff and volunteers at Hills & Dales enjoy the Children’s Christmas event just as much as the parents and children who attend.

“It takes weeks and weeks of preparation to make,” Gresley said. “We cut [the gingerbread houses] out of graham crackers and put them together by hand. It is a labor of love for sure, but we enjoy doing it. It is worth it to see all the children and the joy that they get out of it.”

For parents, part of the joy of the event can be allowing their children to have fun with activities that would be difficult to put together outside the special event.

“[I look forward to] them getting to do a gingerbread house, and they are already put together,” said Carrie Shocklee, who attended the event with her children. “Then everything is decorated for Christmas in here. [It is] so pretty.”

Shocklee said that attending the Children’s Celebration is a Christmas tradition for her family, who have attended since her 11-year-old daughter was a toddler.

For 2018, Hills & Dales staff and volunteers put together 350 gingerbread houses for children to decorate, and even children arriving later in the morning were able to decorate their own gingerbread houses.

“I do think that we’ve had a really good turnout, and we’ve had a lot of diversity,” Gresley said. “I think it is great for children who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to build gingerbread houses and go see Santa and have storytelling. It has been really neat for me, with it being my first year, to see the creativity and what they do with the different candies. All the different children bring a different perspective to the table, so it is fun to see what they do. I think that it recommits the Callaways’ desire to help the community in any way possible.”