AUBURN | As Santa Claus sauntered into Willard Memorial Chapel on Sunday afternoon, the eyes of children of all ages lit up. As sounds of gasps filled the room, old St. Nick sat down to read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
Willard Memorial Chapel hosted families as part of the Auburn Holiday Traditions open houses. Volunteers came together to donate their time to encourage children to read and celebrate the magic of Christmas.
And the success of the event could be seen through the eyes of the children who sat quietly listening to Santa and Captain Jack read Christmas stories.
For 3-year-old Kate Fennessy, the sight of Santa brought on so much excitement, that she could hardly sit down. As Santa Claus walked into the chapel to read the story to a group of children, Fennessy stood, her pigtails swaying back and forth and her eyes glistening with happiness to spend time with Santa.
The chapel was one of nearly 10 open houses in Auburn on Sunday to promote community involvement and a love of the holiday season, volunteers said. From noon to 5 p.m., multiple churches and historic sites in the area opened their doors.
Celebrating through song at St. Mary's
The Voices of Faith Choir stood on the dim-lit altar, practicing for their first concert in Auburn. For many choir members, their trip to the church was their first, they said.
Jack Gardner, the group's choir director, guided them through music before sending them off to the pews in preparation for the concert. The program featured religious hymns and holiday favorites.
"There is a wonderful celebration going on today and we're so happy to be a part of it," Gardner said. "This is also a great way for the community to participate and enjoy an afternoon of a variety of events musical or otherwise."
An educational afternoon
The steps leading up to the Seward House were busy most of the afternoon as residents of all ages walked in and out of one of Auburn's most historic sites.
Inside, volunteers dressed in old-fashioned outfits stood in each room, educating visitors on the history of the home. And like any home this time of year, the house was adorned with an assortment of holiday decorations.
Billye Chabot, executive director at Seward House Museum was thrilled to see so many members of the community walk through the doors.
"I think it's very important that the community know that we're doing this for them," she said. "The city of Auburn is very important to us and we want everybody within the community to feel welcome. This home is for everyone to enjoy and events like this help us to relay that to our community."
Chad Fletcher was a first-time visitor and spent the day touring the home with his two children. Cassie Fletcher, 5, and Cameron Fletcher, 9, have both been to the museum before and when the open house came up in family conversation, Chad thought spending the afternoon getting acquainted with some of Auburn's history was a great family outing.
"I think it's great to have something like this so close. It's very interesting," Chad said. "My son's in the fourth grade and he's starting to study American history and to have all of this at your finger tips allows us to learn about it and see it together."
He added: "It's just a unique opportunity and something that we all feel really lucky to have."