Larry Gulino waves to Santa Claus and gives him a wink as he walks past a display of Christmas trees in Stony Brook’s Village Center.
Over 1,000 people attended the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s 32nd annual Holiday Festival on Sunday afternoon. Gulino, 66, of Stony Brook, has attended for 25 years and says his motivation to return is seeing the big man with the white beard and red coat.
“This event celebrates how blessed we all are as a community,” said Gulino. “It’s phenomenal.”
Seventy small Christmas trees were donated by over a dozen organizations and decorated by members of the community to display throughout the Village Center. The event also included carolers, performers from Cirque USA, a petting zoo and a puppet show.
“The festival is all about community unity and it’s a very heartwarming experience for the people who come every year,” said Deborah Boudreau, education manager at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the nonprofit educational center that held the event.
The holiday festival was started in 1979 by Ward Melville himself, a philanthropist who believed in educating youth through outreach programs.
“This free event has grown by leaps and bounds over the years,” said Marie Gilberti, communications manager for the heritage organization. “It’s great because the surrounding stores benefit as well.”
The shops and restaurants surrounding the festivities were filled with holiday lights and sold Christmas-themed goods.
Jill McCloskey has owned the Stony Brook Gift Shop in the Village Center for eight years, and loves seeing the swarm of customers that visit her store every year during the festival.
“It’s nice because it brings the community down here to see Santa, then they come see us in the shops,” said McCloskey. “Everyone comes together and that’s what the holidays are all about.”
Ken Debus, 22, of Farmingdale, was at the festival for his fourth consecutive year and loves to bring more friends every time.
“Some of my buddies don’t even know this holiday festival is out here but it’s always awesome to show people,” said Debus. “There’s always something new going on each year and it continues to exceed my expectations.”
Pictured above: Carolers sing Christmas music at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization's Holiday Festival at the Stony Brook Village Center. (Dec. 4, 2011)