There are all sorts of family traditions, but holiday traditions seem to ring true to us all, as spending quality time with family, no matter our creed or race, is typical for everyone this time of year.
That was the case at Saturday morning’s breakfast with Santa, which took place at the Pilgrim Senior Center. Since the 1970s, the Warwick Beacon has held a photos with Santa event, with publisher John Howell energetically snapping photos of children – and even a few adults – on Santa’s lap. The photos run in the Christmas week edition of the paper.
This year was no different than previous years other than the breakfast, which was an added feature when the Central RI Chamber and the Beacon teamed up last year. More than 130 children, along with their parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles, lined up to meet St. Nicholas. Many enjoyed a tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, home fries and french toast sticks cooked by chamber volunteers.
For some, it was their first time meeting Santa. Infants and toddlers gazed at the jolly old soul in wonder and amazement, while older children were practically professionals at telling him their wish lists.
The youngest was Cody Morin, who was born Nov. 16. His mother Diana said it was her fourth year attending the event, as she has brought her two older children, Lisa DeSouza, 11, a sixth grader at Holliman, and Daniel Morin Jr., 4, in the past. Lisa and Daniel said they plan to teach their new brother the importance of behaving at Christmas time, as well as the whole year, so Santa brings him lots of gifts.
Donna Gautieri has been bringing her children to the breakfast for 11 years. She first brought her twin daughters, Kelsey and Haley, who are both 14 and freshmen at Toll Gate, when they were three. These days, their little sister, Madison, 4, accompanies them.
So why the Beacon event and not any other? They come not only to see Santa but because of Howell’s warm spirit.
“He’s such a friendly man,” said Donna. “He takes his time and listens to what they say. He’s awesome.”
Visiting Santa, the twins said, was just for fun. As far as they are concerned, they already got what they wanted for Christmas: the opportunity to see One Direction, an English-Irish boy band, live in concert last week Mohegan Sun Arena.
Of course, they each asked Santa for something, rather someone, he won’t be able to get them.
“Zayn [Malik] from One Direction,” Haley said of one of the group members, while Kelsey would like Niall Horan, another member.
A different Hayley, Hayley Collins, 8, a third grader at Park Elementary School, has been going to the event her entire life. Her parents, Laurie and James, always take her.
“We’ve been going since she was in my belly,” Laurie said. “It’s tradition, and it’s unique and original. “Where else would we see an elf and John Howell?”
Jill and Bob Chevian, who bring their daughters Olivia, 11, and Sophia, 7, students at Warwick Neck, to the festivity every year, feel the same.
“This is the only place we come; we don’t see Santa anywhere else,” said Jill. “I always like coming and seeing their faces when they see Santa.”
Jill noted their oldest daughter, Arietta, 14, a ninth grader at Vets, would have joined in on the fun if not for basketball practice. Arietta is a forward on the junior varsity team.
Katherine Cousineau, 9, a fourth grader at Greenwood, attended the breakfast for the seventh time, while others experienced the event for the first time. Among them were Kelsey Tella-Torilli, 4, whose grandmother, Janice Torilli, is a Beacon employee and one of Santa’s helpers.
“He can get me anything he wants,” Kelsey said when asked what she hopes Santa will bring her this year. As a child, Torilli brought Kelsey’s father, Vinnie, to photos with Santa.
“I remember going to the Beacon for this,” he said, his wife, Nicole, Kelsey’s mother, by his side.
Lily Howard, 6, a first grader at Randall Holden, said she was “happy” to meet Santa. Like Kelsey, it was her first time at the event. That joy overflowed to adults as well, including Betty and Roger Keefe.
“I enjoy every minute of this,” Betty said. “It’s fun to be with family and friends,” while Roger reflected on childhood Christmas memories. He said, “When you were a little kid and you saw a boot print in the fireplace ashes you would say, ‘Wait a minute. Somebody came down the fireplace.’ You have that image in your mind for the rest of your life. It’s everlasting.”
Volunteers also had a very merry time. As she served food, part-time Chamber employee Bunny Feiler said, “The food is as hot as the servers, and we have fun.” This was her first year volunteering at the event, but it was her husband Michael’s third. “The best part is the kids, and it’s great to do something for the community,” said Michael, an associate broker at Keller Williams Realty in the East Side of Providence.
Chamber members Janice and Joe Oakes had fun at the event. Joe, the chairman of VR Industries, said he was pleased to see such a good turnout, plus the joy of the children.
“Everyone has a nice time and it’s nice to see kids happy,” he said.
Santa shared his sentiments.
“I love the kids, and I love to see their happiness,” he said. “More than that is seeing the expressions on Mom and Dad’s face, and on Grandma and Grandpa’s face. And nothing is more special than a baby’s first Christmas.”