Santa visits Milford amidst a holiday fair

Christmas shoppers enjoy the great variation of vendors at the Christmas market on Friday night in Milford. Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller

MILFORD — On Friday night, downtown Milford was abuzz with the sound of Christmas music streaming from the belfry of the First Presbyterian Church on Walnut Street as part of Downtown Milford Inc.’s mission to kick off the holiday season.

The non-profit focused on economic development was able to overcome the difficulties of this particular holiday season with its first ever Christmas-themed artisan market and a visit from Santa Claus.

Mr. Claus, played by Joey Phillips of the Causey Mansion, spent his first night of the season in Milford meeting with local children via the municipal customer service building’s drive-thru intercom system.

“Santa is always excited to visit Milford and I’m looking forward to seeing all the local kids again,” Mr. Claus said in an email on Thursday.

“I will miss having all the kids sitting on my lap and them whispering their wishes and secrets into my ear,” he said. “I will especially miss the many hugs that give Santa so much happiness!”

Mr. Claus will be at the drive-thru Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Fridays 5-8 p.m. through Dec. 20.

The first person to meet with Mr. Claus on Friday night was 5-year-old Greenwood resident Bailey Pase who was there with her mother Meredith.

Bailey said she was very excited to see Santa. She already had a message for him in mind as she awaited his arrival.
“I want a unicorn for Christmas,” she said. “Two unicorns and one horse.”

Mr. Claus, on the other hand, encouraged her to practice her reading skills and said she may find a book in her stocking.
Ms. Pase said she has been bringing Bailey to see Santa in Milford since she was a baby.

“This is our fifth year and it’s always the best around,” Ms. Pase said. “It’s the nicest, they have the most stuff outside, they always greet you and give something to the kids.”

Mrs. Claus, played by Milford’s Donna Warfield, was standing in the drive-thru handing out candy canes, post cards and dog treats.

“This is my third year as Mrs. Claus,” she said. “I love it, because I get to go out and talk to the kids before they see Santa. I’m like the warmup act before the band comes out.”

Mrs. Claus wasn’t entirely sure how the drive-thru arrangement would work, but she was glad local kids would get to see Mr. Claus in a safe way.

“One of the things we’re going to do is give them a postcard that’s got a picture of Santa on it so they’ll have something even though they can’t have their picture taken with Santa this year,” she said.

At the same time, Mr. Claus was hanging out in the drive thru, DMI was carrying out its first ever Christmas Market a few blocks away where a group of 16 mostly local artisans showed off their crafts along the Riverwalk.

One of those businesses is Lincoln’s Barefoot Alpaca Farm.

“We’ve got 38 alpacas on our farm,” said owner Dennis Mignogno. “We sheer the fleece of the alpacas once a year and we send it to a mill that makes the socks, hats, scarves and gloves that we sell.”

He said alpaca fleece is both hypoallergenic and very warm.

“It’s probably the warmest fiber on earth,” Mr. Mignogno said. “It’s actually warmer than wool.”

Chantel, left, and Patrick Helmick and her daughter River, 5, greet Santa Claus (Joey Phillips) at the drive-thru window at the City of Milford Customer Service Building.

For the past two years, he said the farm has brought the alpacas to downtown Milford for the annual Holiday Stroll, which has been a more expansive holiday fair in years past.

“We actually bring the alpacas and display them,” Mr. Mignogno said. “This year with COVID they’re not doing that. They’re doing this instead, so we were contacted by the lady who runs it who asked us if we wanted to come out.”

He said the pandemic has been challenging for niche craft-oriented businesses like his. He was happy DMI was offering local vendors the opportunity to hawk their wares.

“A lot of the craft shows that normally we would have done were canceled this year,” Mr. Mignogno. “We’re doing whatever shows we can find.”

But other local entrepreneurs saw the pandemic as more of an opportunity.

Milford’s Bethany Wright, who daylights as a school therapist at the Sussex Consortium in Lewes, was selling her hand-crafted polymer clay earrings.

“So far, earrings are all that I’ve made,” she said of her one-woman operation she named Clay and Sand. “I’d love to expand into necklaces and other things that you can wear, but I just started in March.”

Ms. Wright said that when schools closed for the first time in the spring, she had a lot of time on her hands, some of which she put into her jewelry-making hobby.

“I spent so much time doing it,” she said. “I had friends start asking where I was getting my earrings, so then I decided to make into something more than just doing it for fun. I guess I had the time to do it because of the pandemic.”

Access to the marketplace itself was tightly controlled in order to maintain adequate social distancing, but the area was not overly crowded early in the night. The market had a relaxed, jovial vibe.

Milford’s Sheri Myers thought it would be a good opportunity to take a stroll, look at all the holiday decorations and do some Christmas shopping.

Ms. Myers said she bought, “a candle for our daughter – a Santa candle.”

She was happy with DMI’s approach to spreading holiday cheer in the COVID-19 era.

“I think they’re doing a great job with it,” Ms. Myers said. “They still had this. They’re not going to have the Holiday Stroll, but this is still pretty neat to have.”

In that way, DMI was directly carrying out Mr. Claus’ advice Milford’s children and other residents.

“Santa wants you all to keep the spirit strong and make this Christmas the best we can considering the circumstances,” he said in his email on Thursday.

Reach staff writer Noah Zucker at nzucker@newszap.com