Snow is a rare sight for many Californians, but some residents of Santa Clarita were treated to 20 tons of it on Sunday night.
The Church on the Way held its annual Winter Wonderland event on Sunday, which featured food, live music, snow play areas, a train ride and photo opportunities with Santa Claus and a live Nativity scene.
Executive pastor Sean Sottile said that this is the seventh year that the church has put on the event to promote community engagement and as a chance for people who haven’t seen snow before to experience a winter treat.
The pastor estimates 850 to 1,300 people attend the event each year and he says he wants to increase that this year through social media posts and with physical posters in town. He even plans to advertise in the movie theaters next year.
“We go very big with this event because we really want to draw the young kids, older youth and adults together,” Sottile said. “We do want to draw attention back to the origin of Christmas, which is Jesus, and if we can encourage people to join our church then that’s great, but we also just want to celebrate the season without shoving the story down people’s throats.”
Rodrigo Sandoval has attended the event in the past and says that it gets better each time.
“I have been to different winter events like this, and I’ve found that each one has a different identity,” he said. “This Winter Wonderland is one hundred percent family oriented with a lot of food, music and a lot of things for kids to do.”
Though not a member of the church, Ambar Weber decided to attend the Winter Wonderland with her family after she saw one of the banners in town.
“I thought it would be a great event to bring my kids to, and I think that any church setting is a good place to bring kids to,” Weber said while standing in line to get photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus. “Santa is such a big part of the Christmas tradition and has been passed down for so long, and he gives kids something to look forward to. It’s kind of sad because the line for the Nativity (scene) is really short, but this line for Santa is wrapping around the parking lot.”
Weber said that she thinks that the Christmas season has strayed too far from its origins and that kids only associate the season with presents and Santa. However, Scottile doesn’t believe that celebration of the two figures is mutually exclusive.
“Whether people realize they’re celebrating the birth of Jesus or not, I think the fact that they’re celebrating at all is awesome,” Scottile said. “To kind of reconcile the secular and the spiritual, we have our Santa bow to Jesus at our live Nativity at various points of the night to show him respect. Santa was based on St. Nicholas and we don’t believe here that the symbol of Santa and our faith have to be separate.”
Sandoval said that he likes to teach his children that Santa is a messenger for Jesus so that they can enjoy both sides of the holiday.
Ryan Escalante has volunteered for the Winter Wonderland since he joined The Church on The Way three years ago and said that the sense of family is what brings him back every year.
“I’ve gotten to know so many people from working here that have become my family and I wouldn’t trade them for anything,” Escalante said. “Events like this are important in Santa Clarita because they promote a sense of unity. We want to bring that Christmas spirit to everyone in Santa Clarita.”