By Maggie Downs and Liz Oakes
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Most people get lost in the hubbub of the holidays - the flurry of shopping, the hours of baking, wrapping and visiting, and the madness of endless celebrations. It's all too easy to limit the Christmas spirit to what we can only see, hear and touch.
But on the Saturday before Christmas, many people in Greater Cincinnati had priorities that extended beyond visiting the local shopping center.
Santa makes his way up to his chair at the Sharonville Holiday Festival.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
Some, like volunteers from Procter & Gamble's Black Employee Support Team, devoted their afternoon to helping others. They spent time at the FreeStore/FoodBank in Norwood, preparing boxes of food to be distributed to needy families.
"Really, what it's all about is the spirit of giving," said Loretta Keeling of College Hill.
Other locals formed new family traditions, like strapping on a pair of ice skates and hitting an outside rink.
Meanwhile, some families shared in the standard custom of picking out a fragrant tree to adorn with tinsel and garland.
So beyond the parking lots clogged with honking cars and the stores packed with frustrated shoppers, other seasonal activities were taking place all over the area today.
Christmas spirit has many facets
NORWOOD - The brown cardboard boxes didn't look like much from the outside. The contents were simple, too - cans of beans, some vegetables, boxes of grains.
It was the effort that made it all spectacular.
On Saturday, volunteers swarmed the Free Store/FoodBank's Tennessee Avenue location to prepare for the annual holiday distribution. About 200,000 pounds of food will be handed out Monday through Wednesday in Greater Cincinnati.
About 25 of the volunteers were from a Procter & Gamble organization, the Black Employee Support Team. The group spent hours elbow-deep in potatoes, separating 15-pound bags into smaller quantities so the spuds would stretch for more families.
Loretta Keeling of College Hill even brought along her two children, ages 10 and 12.
"I wanted my kids to realize that not everyone is as blessed as we are," she said. "It's part of our duty to help others who are less fortunate."
Though the volunteers could have spent the afternoon buying gifts or having holiday fun, they wanted to give of themselves instead.
"This is when the Free Store needed us the most," said Rhonda Norwood of Westwood. "If they needed us the day before Christmas, we still would have come out."
Their effort doesn't surprise Bill Yunker, volunteer activity coordinator.
"I'm just a believer that here in Cincinnati, we are blessed with a lot of really good people," he said. "We often forget how good people really are at heart."
After the gifts, memories remain
DOWNTOWN - Manika Williamson of Evendale has this theory.
After Christmas, dolls will be tossed aside. Games will be forgotten. Electronics items will break.
But her nieces and nephews will recall the crisp air of Fountain Square just before Christmas, the feel of sliding across a smooth ice rink, the time spent with loved ones.
"They'll forget the toys they get on the 25th, but they'll remember this," she said, as she held onto the wooden rail of the ice rink with her fiance, Jason Williams of Columbus. Her relatives sidled up next to her, bundled in knit hats and chunky coats.
Jordyn, 10, Tyler and Taylor Hagens, both 8, were beaming despite the cold. Even tiny JimL Williamson, 3, screeched when it was time to leave the ice.
"The gift side of everything is a little too played out," said Williams. "This is what it's all about."
The group spent about an hour on Fountain Square Saturday and planned to visit the Cinergy Children's Museum at the Cincinnati Museum Center before the afternoon was finished.
"We even have sleds in the back seat, so hopefully we can do that, too," said Williamson.
"This is what you're supposed to do during the holiday season. Play outside."
Salvation Army family tradition
UNION TWP. - A tradition for Jim N. Jordan, 42, of Withamsville, and his dad, Jim E. Jordan, 68, of Marathon, Ohio, is ringing a bell for the Salvation Army in Clermont County.
Along with Gary Hutchinson, 63, of Bethel, the group from Marathon Masonic Lodge has been manning a kettle for more than 10 years.
About 75 people had already chipped in at their station in front of Sears at Eastgate Mall, the volunteers said. They collect more than $2,000 each year to give to the Salvation Army during three or four 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday shifts each holiday season.
"We wear lots of clothes," said Hutchinson - dressed in Santa hat, a scarf and coat - his breath visible in the air.
Enduring the cold for a surrey ride
SHARONVILLE - John McNulty, 47, kept his green parka hood up in the cold as he waited for the reproduction mid-19th-century hotel surrey with the fringe on top pulled by two tan Belgian draft horses to return to Depot Square on Saturday.
"We love Christmas, and the city of Sharonville offers these rides, which I think is really neat," said McNulty, a Sharonville resident who stood a half-hour in line with his wife, Sue, 44, and 26 other people.
The city's second annual holiday event drew about 500 visitors to a live Nativity, carriage rides, visits with Santa, pony rides, carolers and a puppet show.
Search for perfect tree continues
NEWTOWN - Most folks already have their trees up, but the rush wasn't over at Burger Farm & Garden Center.
Shannon, 66, and Jane Smith, 63, of Mount Washington were among those picking up a Christmas tree. The Smiths were looking for a 6-foot Scotch or white pine or Fraser fir among about 30 trees left at Burger.
They don't normally wait until the weekend before Christmas to buy a tree, Jane Smith said, but they were busy with parties and "I sort of ran out of steam."
But "maybe Santa Claus won't come if we don't get a tree," Shannon Smith quipped.
General manager Ken Pulskamp, 39, said he had sold eight or nine Christmas trees Saturday morning, and expected buyers through Tuesday, the last day before Burger closes for the holiday.
"Some of it's family tradition," he said. "A lot of them don't put (their tree) up until Christmas Eve." He said Burger, which sells an average of about 1,400 trees each holiday season, is scheduled to deliver seven trees two days before Christmas.
After the store closes at 6 p.m. Tuesday, his tradition is to put the unsold trees outside, Pulskamp said. Last year, he left out seven trees and they were gone within two hours, he said.
Season's beauty preserved for all
MOUNT ADAMS - Outside Krohn Conservatory, Ray Elfers, 27, of Fort Wright, posed for pictures with his sisters Emily, 22, and Brittany, 17, for a Christmas gift for their mom.
"I'm kind of using it as an excuse to hang out with my sisters," Elfers said.
Inside the conservatory, Joseph Xie, 37, of Louisville, watched as his daughter, Annie, 10, of Norwood took pictures of a revolving village with a waterfall and working train set amid displays of pink, red and white poinsettias.
"We come here very often," Xie said. The conservatory is "one of the most lovely things in Cincinnati."
Nearby outside, David Stanton, 35, of Evanston walked through a live Nativity scene with his children Jachari, 8, and David Jr., 6, and his nephew Tim Stanton, 30, of Price Hill.
As the music of "Silent Night" filled the stable, Stanton said he brought his family to get into the holiday spirit and "explain what the true meaning of Christmas is - about the birth of Christ."
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