While the weather may not have cooperated, the Empire Christmas celebration at Minton Park on Dec. 11 was a festive occasion nonetheless.
The howling winds made holiday decorations and kazoo caroling impossible, yet kids received gifts and adults received door prizes — and the families gathered under the pavilion at the park still enjoyed themselves.
Town Clerk Jeannette Piel called Empire residents a hardy bunch, and hardy they were as they dressed in layers to battle the harsh wind. But there was coffee, hot chocolate and brownies, plus bags of goodies for the kids. In addition, each child received a $50 gift card to Walmart, courtesy of the town and donations from businesses.
Rather than asking businesses for door prizes, Piel said, the town gave businesses $25 to help pay for the door prizes that included hot chocolate-making kits, flavored popcorn, gift certificates and more. Piel called the money a small gesture to thank businesses for supporting the town.
She hoped the prizes might get locals to shop local, noting that there was a symbiotic relationship between the townspeople and the shops and restaurants.
“At Christmas, we want to give to the shops, too,” she said.
The town was prepared for 50 to 60 children to attend, which has been the average in recent years, but the weather kept some families away. Empire has had a Christmas celebration in some form for at least 40 years, with a gift going to every child under 17 in the town.
Brittany and Nate Hailpern brough their three sons, Kaison, 6, Kyaler, 5, and Decklynn, 3, to the event, and they had fun playing on the swings before getting their bags of goodies. Brittany said she dressed everyone in layers to keep out the biting wind, and the boys didn’t seem to mind.
The family moved to Empire from Georgetown two months ago, and Brittany was impressed that the celebration went on despite the weather.
Amber Bielz sat at a picnic table with the flavored popcorn door prize she received, watching the two-dozen attendees and waiting for her son, Chance, 7, to finish playing on the playground. She liked the celebration and said she came because Chance wanted to attend.
Town Board member Linda Robertson selected the door prize winners, while the Empire Police Department attended in full force, bringing a squad car with flashing lights.
Police Officer Andrew Lorenz said town officials and volunteers switched gears to make the celebration happen, though it was not as elaborate as they had hoped.
“Today we’re just winging it,” he said.