Polar Express & Santa Claus Roll Into Lane Library

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By Lisa Tetrault-zhe

Hampton Union, Tuesday, December 7, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]
Wearing her reindeer antlers, 5-year-old Abigail Rayder asks Santa for her Christmas wishes.
[lisa tetrault-zhe photo]

HAMPTON -- Cocoa, cookies, caroling — all a part of the annual "Polar Express" night held at Lane Library on Dec. 2. But the highlight of the evening was when the big guy in red strolled into the room as the children sang "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

Children erupted in screams and laughter as he made the way to the front of the room, asking them why they were wearing pajamas, shaking hands and patting some on the head.

One little girl, who attends every year, summed it up.

"I like to see Santa, that's the best part," said four-year-old Hampton resident Chloe Marx.

According to her mother, they've attended for three years and both her children (Chloe and her brother, Dean) enjoy it.

"My kids just love it," Jennifer Marx said. "We look forward to it every year. If we missed it, they'd be so upset."

The program, organized by assistant children's librarian Joanne Mulready, is in its fifth year. Every year the wait list gets longer.

"This year we had about 80 kids signed up to attend, and they bring their parents," Mulready said. "This is my favorite program of the year."

Upon arrival in their pajamas, children were given golden tickets, similar to those in the Polar Express movie. The tickets were punched by two teen volunteers and they quickly found a seat near the front of the room, awaiting Mulready's arrival to read "The Polar Express."

After she finished reading, they sang a few carols together, including some led by the first grade class at Centre School, the last of which was "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Then, he entered the room. Each child had an opportunity to sit on his lap, and was given candy canes afterwards. Hot cocoa and various treats, supplied by parents, were also served, and a craft was available.

In addition to the usual requests for gifts, Santa got a few interesting questions from the children.

Six-year-old Kelsey Bellavance inquired as to how reindeer fly; while her friend, 7-year-old Celia Schwarz, asked about how elves move from place to place so quickly. Santa's retort — magic, of course.

Many children admitted to liking the movie better, but some weren't sure.

"My nanny picked me up and told me we were coming here," said 7-year-old Matthew Merrifield. "I was so happy. I've read the book and seen the movie, I like them both."

His sister, 3-year-old Kaylee Merrifield, agreed she was very excited to be there and see Santa Claus.

As they left, each child was given a magic bell from Santa's sleigh, as in the book, by one of the volunteers.

"Polar Express is my favorite event here," said Winnacunnet High School senior Brianna Brand. She's been volunteering at the library for five years. "I love how everyone comes together for it; it's such a festive time."

For Mulready, who said she thinks her daughter gave her the idea for the program, the most rewarding aspect of the program is watching the children, many of whom come back every year.

"Just seeing the kids' faces is the best part," Mulready said. "Most of them are smiling from ear to ear. It's a really fun evening."

Friends Kelsey Bellavance, 6, and Celia Schwarz, 7, take a turn with Santa. But rather than ask for gifts, they both had a question for the big guy. Bellanvance asked how elves move from one place to another so quickly and Schwarz asked how reindeer fly. Santa's reply: "That's simple - magic."
[lisa tetrault-zhe photo]
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