Extravaganza event helps kids get into the holiday spirit

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PITTSFIELD — There was no calm before the storm in the Colonial Theatre on Sunday afternoon, as families, volunteers and performers packed the place with holiday spirit.

Tickets for the the fifth annual Children's Holiday Extravaganza were released back in August for the free festive community celebration.

"We sold out in less than 48 hours," said Kathleen Amuso, who co-chairs the event.

Cousins Mikki Adams and Fawn Adams of Pittsfield brought the children in their lives two years ago, but missed tickets to last year's shindig.

"We weren't going to miss this year's," Mikki said. "I wanted my kid to meet Santa."

And 14-month-old Miguel, looking oh-so-dapper in a red and black-checked flannel shirt and black bow tie, did get to meet Santa, multiple times. He had so much energy, he couldn't sit still long enough for his mother to take a decent picture for this year's Christmas card. Even Mrs. Claus struggled to rein the tot onto Santa's lap.

Eventually, a clever friend nearby dangled a shiny gold ball ornament in front of the youngster then passed it to Santa. Miguel stayed put for a few seconds, and mom got the smartphone shots she had been waiting for.

Fawn, who pushed around a double stroller with 2-year-old Joseph, and 5-month-old Juelz, said she appreciated the fact that everything — popcorn, pizza, cookies, candy, balloons, clowns and caroling —are offered for free.

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"This time of year, you're always left feeling tapped out," she said.

"I wish they did this more," Mikki said, indicating a desire for more like community gatherings. "But I especially love this at this time of year. It gets us into the holiday spirit."

Amuso said that attendance was a bit lighter than usual this year, something she attributed to the impending snowstorm. While gift bags had been reserved for the first 400 children through the door, a few dozen were still sitting on a table at about 1:30 p.m., with the event scheduled to conclude at 2. That was just about the time the snow began falling steadily.

Still, those in attendance seemed satisfied, and nobody left empty-handed. The space, time and goods for the event are almost entirely donated by various community groups and local business sponsors. In addition to treats, each gift bag also contained a free children's ticket to Berkshire Theatre Group's community production of "A Christmas Carol," encouraging families to return to the theater.

In addition to the goodie bags, a new candy bar was offered where people could fill their own bag with sweets; other kids left with balloon candy canes and swords and faces painted like superheroes and reindeer; even St. Joseph's Food Pantry volunteers left with boxes of donated items brought in by attendees. Others left with some new dance moves thanks to a demonstration and performance by the dysFUNKcrew dance group, and songs in their heads from the various musical performances.

Allison Rachele Bayles, Berkshire Theatre Group's administrative director of education, enlisted various staff and audience members to help draw names for gift baskets and other raffle prizes.

In previous years, a dozen kids left the event with prizes of brand new bicycles and helmets. This year, Berkshire Bank and Plaine's Bike Ski Snowboard donated a total of 14 two-wheelers. One of them, Amuso said, went to a girl whose bike was recently stolen.

Santa and Mrs. Claus, who handed out books at the event, said they always leave the Children's Holiday Extravaganza with "great photos, great stories and great moments."

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


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