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Holiday season in Jackson opens with return of Toyland, Christmas tree lighting

JACKSON — The holiday season in Jackson will officially kick off during the weekend of Dec. 3-4 with two perennially popular events.

Toyland, a beloved holiday tradition that includes model trains, festive tableaus, photos with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and treats to eat, will return to the Melvin Cottrell Senior Center, 45 Don Connor Blvd., on Dec. 3-4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

The event is back after a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jackson’s Christmas tree lighting will take place on Dec. 4 at 4:30 p.m. outside the municipal building, 95 West Veterans Highway. The outdoor event will include entertainment, refreshments and a visit with Santa.

“Toyland is a long-standing tradition in town,” said Kate Slisky, director of the senior center, which hosts the event. “It has been going on for over 20 years and it has grown and grown. In 2019 we had about 1,200 to 1,400 people each day. Toyland is open to anyone who wants to come, all ages.”

Admission to Toyland is free and every child under age 10 will receive a teddy bear that has been outfitted with love by senior center members as long as supplies last, she said.

“We have partnered for many years with the Salvation Army and they donate teddy bears,” Slisky explained, “Our seniors knit and crochet the bears’ outfits, a handmade dress or a sweater and a scarf and a hat for each bear. And every child under 10 will get a free teddy bear that is dressed in an outfit made by a senior.”

According to Slisky, although the senior center was closed due to the pandemic, that did not deter the seniors, who continued to knit and crochet outfits for the bears with yarn that was delivered to their homes by the senior center’s staff members.

“The seniors knew they had a job to do and they knew they had a purpose,” she said. “It was very, very important to us to keep that going and to give them a reason to be busy.”

At Toyland, children can visit with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, enjoy a cookie and juice, and post a letter in Santa’s mailbox.

Another Toyland attraction will be a gift shop where youngsters can pick out gifts for family members.

“The gifts are priced at $2 and $3 so the children can come in and buy outfits for their teddy bears, and with $20 they can have gifts for the whole family,” Slisky said.

The senior center partners with the Salvation Army, whose volunteers help run the event, including the kitchen, with nachos, hot dogs and other light fare available.

Volunteers are intergenerational and include students from Jackson Liberty and Jackson Memorial high schools who help staff the gift shop, the bake sale, provide face painting and balloon making, and dress as characters.

“We have them (dress up) as Batman and Robin, as princes and princesses, and as characters from ‘Frozen’ and ‘Toy Story.’ They act as greeters and pose for photos with the children at the different scenes,” Slisky said.

During the Toyland event, the senior center will be decorated with giant displays and a train layout, with themes including “Toy Story” and “Frozen.”

“We have a working train room dedicated to trains that includes mountain scenes. The conductor is Craig, one of our senior staff members. We will have little Lego Batman and Robin, and the Joker. When the train comes through the mountain the kids have to spot the characters on the train. Make sure your cell phone is charged because there are plenty of photo opportunities,” Slisky said.

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