SOUTHINGTON — The Lathrop family is new to town, having moved to Southington from California in March. On Sunday, they got to experience a quintessential New England Christmas celebration for the first time at the town’s annual Santa in the Park event.
“We’re from a suburb of Los Angeles,” said Tamara Lathrop, who attended the festivities with her mother, Melinda, and her children, Brooklyn, Declan and Acelyn. “The family atmosphere has just been so welcoming and warming. In California, we don’t really have this kind of community togetherness. It makes me feel like I’ve been taken back 20 years. You hear about these type of holiday traditions and you see them in the movies, but you’re not really sure they exist. It’s very cool. It makes us feel more involved in the community.”
The Southington Recreation Department sponsored Santa’s visit Sunday afternoon at the Community Pavilion on the Southington Drive-In property. For the 30th year, resident Roger Limmer portrayed Santa Claus for the event, which also included music, Valentine the Clown, face painting, horse and carriage rides, and refreshments and goody bags provided by the American Legion Post 72 Auxiliary. The event was free of charge.
At 2 p.m., Limmer arrived dressed all in fur, from his head to his feet, via Engine 31 from Milldale Fire Company No. 3 as the disc jockey, Jerry Limmer, cued up, “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
“We were more than happy to give him a ride,” said Southington Fire Department Lt. Chris Martin, whose clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
Julia Berardinelli, secretary at the recreation department, estimated that Santa in the Park dates back over 30 years, starting on the Town Green and eventually moving to the Recreation Park area on Maxwell-Noble Drive. Sunday was the second time the event was held under the pavilion.
Berardinelli, dressed like a reindeer, clicked away at a handheld tally counter and expected about 200 children to sit on Santa’s lap.
Southington’s Mia Masucci, 5, was one of the first children to converse with Santa.
“This is amazing,” said Mia’s mother, Kristen. “It’s a local, hometown tradition. It’s much better than visiting Santa at the mall and the commercialism that comes with it.”
Southington’s Benjamin Young, 5, brought his Christmas list to show Santa. He wants a panda bear, toy car and Lego set.
“Santa said, ‘Um-hum,’ to all three,” Benjamin happily reported to his dad, Bryan.