Paradise Canyon Elementary 4th-grader Connor Hsu was the picture of contentment after he was able to feed graham crackers to a reindeer at the Festival in Lights holiday gathering in Memorial Park.
“They’re cool,” Connor, 9, said with a smile after watching one of the two animals that roamed inside a fenced-off space at the park last Friday. “They’re fuzzy. He licked me.”
Santa Claus, snow, reindeer and the announcement of the 2019 Miss La Cañada Flintridge Royal Court were all celebrated at the 24th annual Festival in Lights.
Selected from among 13 finalists, the five named to the court are Kat Hightower, Audrey Raulli, Sarah Peck, Sophie Lin and Francesca Christensen.
Pat Anderson, president and CEO of the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce, said all the finalists were qualified and the judges had a hard time deciding whom to select.
“I wish everybody could win, but that’s not reality,” Anderson said. “I am delighted with the five who are chosen and I look forward to working with them, and I am really looking forward to the coronation ceremony of our queen that will take place on Jan. 17th.”
Raulli attends La Cañada High School, Peck and Christensen go to Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, Lin studies at Flintridge Prep and Hightower attends Campbell Hall in Studio City.
The new court members savored the moment.
Hightower said she felt “ecstatic and surprised,” and Raulli said being chosen left her “speechless.”
Peck said she wasn’t expecting the honor, and Lin said each finalist was deserving of a place on the court.
Christensen said she was “overcome with emotion” but excited to represent LCF.
The city and chamber sponsored the event.
Anderson said she was impressed with the turnout for this year’s event.
“I know there are a lot more people here this year than last year,” she said. “It’s very exciting.”
After the court was named, Santa arrived with Mrs. Claus in a 1932 black roadster, escorted on Foothill Boulevard by sheriff’s patrol cars and county fire engines. The roadster parked on the Memorial Park grass, and families lined up to speak to Santa and get a candy cane.
Rick Chew, an LCF resident, drove the car carrying the famous couple.
“It’s great, I’ve done it for several years now,” Chew said as children happily yelled at Santa and Mrs. Claus as they helped light the nearby gazebo.
Chris Falbo and his wife Tricia Falbo watched their 3½-year-old daughter Ryann energetically ask Santa for a pair of “aqua boots” and receive a candy cane.
“Did you like Santa, sweetie?” Falbo asked his daughter after she stood in line and had photos taken. “Yes!” said the girl, who attends classes at the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge.
Falbo said it was easy to describe his favorite moment of the night.
“Watching her light up when she saw Santa,” Falbo said.
Performers at the event included Misplaced Priorities, the PCY Choral Club and the La Cañada Elementary Lion’s Pride Chorus.
Meanwhile, a pile of snow brought in for the occasion gave children the makings for snowballs, which they tossed at one another.
Nearby, at the reindeer enclosure, Connor Hsu’s mother, Regina, said her son came to the event specifically to see the animals. He was worried the reindeer would be feel overwhelmed by the crowd, but she reassured him that people weren’t inside the enclosure with them.
“I think he’s probably happy to see that they don’t look stressed out,” she said.
Maddie Broyles, a 14-year-old freshman who attends LCHS, said the reindeer weren’t scary.
“These are like giant dogs with antlers,” she said.
Gerry Clingan, who was handing out graham crackers to attendees to feed the 6-year-old reindeer, said one of the animals was a female named Noelle and a male named Nick. He said the reason for their popularity was simple.
“Where do you see reindeer? I think that’s why, because nobody sees them,” said Clingan, who does construction work during the week and has the reindeer gig on weekends for California Reindeer Rentals.
His fellow reindeer wrangler, Denise Marsh, said the animals were very friendly and don’t bite.
“They don’t have enough teeth to bite,” Marsh said.
The event is a time for the community to get together and celebrate, said chamber leader Anderson.
“And most of all to reflect on the season, whatever your religion might be,” she said.