Christmas lights strung in shrubbery and the arrival of Santa Claus turned The Children's Park into a magical setting Friday night.
Children played and made crafts. Families roasted marshmallows over a fire and then made s'mores to eat, listened to storytelling, sang Christmas carols and enjoyed snowman soup made of hot chocolate and a scoop of ice cream.
Shelly Johnson's daughter, Alli, 5, said her favorite thing was the s'mores.
It was the 13th annual Christmas in the Park, one of the opportunities created by The Children's Park throughout the year for families to spend time together, said Jennifer Carson, executive director. Approximately 150 to 200 people attended.
"This park is about celebrating the lives of children in a lot of different ways. A big part of our ministry is toward families that have lost children," Carson said, but pointed that the park is in honor and in memory of children. Names of over 500 children – those living and those that have passed away - are engraved along the sidewalks in celebration of their lives.
Squeals of delight came from children spotting Santa Claus. He mingled among them saying "Merry Christmas" as children rushed to him and he posed for picture.
Maxx Jackson, 4, told Santa he wants a Batman robot for Christmas. He was accompanied by his parents and little brother.
Many families surrounded a Christmas tree, where they sang carols and listened to the reading of a story titled "The Crippled Lamb" by Max Lucado, which storyteller David Provines illustrated with a puppet lamb.
The story is about a lamb that can't walk very well, so the other sheep go out in the pasture all day long and the poor lamb has to stay back at the stable and hang out, Provines said. Jesus, Mary and Joseph show up and the crippled lamb keeps Jesus warm and comforted.
"The purpose (of the story) is that even though you might have disabilities or issues or problems, you still have a place with Jesus. He's got a purpose for your life," Provines said.
At the crafts table, Aubrey Langston, 8, enjoyed using stickers to create a manger scene on paper.
Patricia Glass came with her husband to remember their son who passed away five weeks ago. "It's a safe place to remember our kids, a great organization to help parents who lost their kids," she said.
Jerushah Dutoit, of Tyler, accompanied by her son, 4, and five-month old daughter, said, "We love visiting The Children's Park and we were excited to come see it decorated for Christmas."
Micah and Jeremy Lewis, who moved to Tyler this year with their daughter, Emsley, 2, came to start a family tradition.
"We thought it would be fun," she said. He added, "We just like the park and the idea of celebrating children."
Carmen Greene was hesitant at first about going to the event because it fell on the one-year anniversary of her daughter, Candace Randle, 30, and her grandson, Camdyn Randle, 5, having been killed in a car wreck on Old Jacksonville Highway.
Once at the park, she said, "This is an amazing place. I can't believe all the things they do to help people grieve and get through tough times like this. I am very thankful to know there are places like this and good people that help. It makes all the difference in the world."