WEST ORANGE, NJ — Residents packed the lawn of Town Hall for the finale of the town’s annual Holiday Open House on Dec. 2, after a day of events to celebrate the holiday season. Beginning bright and early at 9 a.m., the Washington Elementary School Gymnasium was filled with almost 200 people for breakfast with Santa Claus, after which parents could take photos of their children with him. Throughout the afternoon, town historian Joseph Fagan and members of the Township Council led tours around historic West Orange, while the library hosted winter storytime and a Build-a-Bear workshop, before the tree-lighting ceremony when the sun went down.
“It’s great to have people come out and meet new people, come out to breakfast,” Councilman Jerry Guarino told the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “You want to see people come out and get involved.”
Guarino went on three of the 10 tours around town, sharing his own knowledge of West Orange. He said it’s one of his favorite events of the year.
“You don’t do it as an elected official,” he said. “You’re part of the community too. We had a good turnout. Things are going in our favor in West Orange; we’re headed in a positive directions. It was fun talking about the town.”
Councilwoman Michelle Casalino also shared her knowledge about her hometown on two of the tours, saying that it was fun to see that residents were interested in where they live.
“I had a lot of fun facts I got to share,” Casalino said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “We got to quiz folks a little bit — they showed they were paying attention. There’s been a great crowd tonight.”
According to Casalino, the best part of the day and evening was the excitement of the children as they gathered to take pictures with Santa in his workshop, aka Council Chambers inside Town Hall.
“What’s better than a child taking a picture with Santa Claus? Seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces makes it all worth it,” she said.
Young children weren’t the only ones excited to be at the holiday festivities — Vincent Means, a senior at West Orange High School, played host to the event on Main Street. While families enjoyed the holiday decorations and petting zoo on the lawn, Means introduced the Roosevelt Middle School Choir and dancers from Unique Performing Arts Center, and led the countdown to the lighting of the tree.
“This was fun to do,” Means said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. He got the hosting job by working with Perry Bashkoff, West Orange’s social media coordinator, after Bashkoff saw Means, an aspiring actor, perform in the WOHS production of “The Little Mermaid” earlier this year.
“I’ve recorded some promos and commercials for the town, just being a general goof,” Means joked. “To get to do that in front of a lot of people was fun. I had to go without a script to make the crowd happy, and improvise. It was good experience.”
In an interview with the Chronicle at the event, Mayor Robert Parisi said, “It was a great West Orange day,” adding that the crowd at Town Hall was the biggest he’d seen at the Holiday Open House in a few years.
“A lot goes into planning this, between the recreation department and the police, the library,” he said. “I’m glad it always works out.”
Parisi said that the Holiday Open House is a great event because it encourages residents to become involved in their community.
“We always help people feel a part of their community and feel welcome and if Santa gets them more involved then that’s wonderful,” he joked. “It’s nice to come together at this time of year.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic