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If the Santa who led the holiday parade during Flossmoor’s annual Winterfest Dec. 8 was not the “real Santa,” then he probably has connections to the real guy.
At least, that’s 8-year-old Talia Thompson’s theory.
“If he’s not the real Santa, then we count on him to maybe deliver (our Christmas lists) to the real Santa,” said Talia, a Heather Hill Elementary student, adding that the man in red “pretty much looked like the real Santa.”
Talia was one of dozens of children to snag photos with Santa at Flossmoor Public Library before he led a parade of merry residents to Flossmoor Park for a Christmas tree and menorah lighting ceremony.
Winterfest seemed to have something for everyone, with activities ranging from Christmas storytime with Mayor Paul Braun to the start of the season’s business scavenger hunt and a tour of local “gingerbread lady” Janet Gustafson’s homemade sugary wonderland.
Talia and her brother Isaiah Thompson, 11, gave Santa a gift of their own — a Mardi Gras beaded necklace.
“He gives you a gift like every year,” Talia said. “It’s nice to at least give him one gift one year. Plus, we give him cookies and milk.”
Isaiah, a Parker Junior High student, said that getting children in the holiday spirit was the true meaning of Santa’s visit.
“Even if he wasn’t real, he was doing the real Santa’s job,” Isaiah said. “He was bringing joy to everybody.”
James Scott Jr. and Nicole Scott brought their children, 9-year-old James Scott III and 4-year-old Olivia Scott, to hear Christmas stories read by the mayor and take pictures with Santa.
“It was definitely good for the kids with the reading section, which was great, by a celebrity around here,” James Scott Jr. said. 
Flossmoor firefighters were in the library as well handing out small toys to children, which Nicole Scott said is always a nice gesture.
“I appreciate that every year since my son has been born, the Flossmoor Fire Department has brought Santa here to take a picture with,” she said. “We’ve had a tradition now for nine years.”
For Christina Carrillo, pictures with Santa included a special family member, Diego, a 2-year-old pit bull and Lab mix who donned a bright green and red sweater for the occasion.
Santa posed for photos with local pets at Park Place earlier in the day, and Carrillo said her family wanted to celebrate Diego’s second Christmas since being adopted from the South Suburban Humane Society last October. 
Though Diego seemed a bit confused when he met Santa, he was no stranger to dressing up; he recently wore a crocodile costume on Halloween, Carrillo said.
“As you can see, he is overly loved, so he gets dressed up for any occasion,” she said.
Meanwhile, the holiday scavenger hunt kicked off and brought residents into downtown businesses to locate hidden Village of Flossmoor logos for the chance to win a prize. 
Maureen Mader, owner of Dunning’s Market, said her restaurant gave candy canes and hot chocolate to customers participating in the scavenger hunt. 
“The camaraderie among the businesses down here is amazing, and we all support each other; we all send customers to each other back and forth,” Mader said. “The enthusiasm from the people in the village has been really overwhelming.”
Janet Gustafson has a similar outlook of community support and fellowship when it comes to allowing neighbors into her home to view her intricate display of gingerbread houses. 
“You get a lot of people this time of year that it’s not a happy time, and when they leave, they have a smile,” she said. “Besides, I’d make it anyway, so why not share it?”
Gustafson said she is now in her 70s and has been baking gingerbread since she was 21 when she read an article in Woman’s Day magazine. She begins baking and building each year around April so visitors can start coming by early November, she said. 
“It’s harder than it looks,” Gustafson said. “I use a template the size of a cookie sheet. Anybody who comes in who is interested in gingerbread and wants the recipe, I’ll give it to them.”
As Winterfest drew to a close, Santa led residents from the library toward Flossmoor Road, stopping to wave and offer a holiday greeting at shops along the way.
His entourage sang Christmas carols along the parade route, and the songs continued after arriving at the towering Christmas tree and menorah in front of Park Place. 
Homewood-Flossmoor High School choir students lead the singing of “The Dreidel Song” in celebration of the seventh night of Hannukah while Mayor Paul Braun and Laura Brennan-Levy, Flossmoor’s program and event coordinator, lit all but one of the candles on the menorah.
Then Braun offered thanks to everyone who made Winterfest a success.
“On behalf of all of us, we wish you a happy, safe and healthy holiday season,” he said.
Photos by Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle.

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