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Posted: December 10, 2015 Festivities bring holiday cheer to downtown Eau Claire

By Eric Lindquist of the Leader-Telegram
Snow was nowhere to be found and the temperature on an electronic bank sign read an unseasonably warm 48 degrees, but Christmas was definitely in the air Saturday afternoon in downtown Eau Claire.
Thousands of Chippewa Valley residents gathered Saturday for the annual Christmastime in the City event filled with free, family activities in the parking lot at the intersection of South Barstow Street and Grand Avenue.
Among the highlights for attendees of all ages were a pair of reindeer, which calmly munched on clover and hay seemingly oblivious to the Christmas cheer surrounding them, including a steady stream of brave carolers trying their hand at Christmas Karaoke, a new addition to the event this year.
The reindeer - named Donder and Blitzen, according to handler Taylor Wittmer of Fantasy Corral in Woodville -  drew squeals of delight from several children upon spotting the creatures' thick fur and huge sets of antlers. Many of the children sported paper antlers of their own declaring them "Downtown Deer."
"Are they going to fly?" 3-year-old Elena Berg asked her mother, Kristin Berg of Eau Claire, in a voice filled with wonder.
But after a brief discussion between the pair, Elena explained earnestly, "They can only fly when they're with Santa."
Elena's brother Dylan, 8, also was impressed with his first chance to get up close and personal with live reindeer.
"It's pretty cool," Dylan said. "I was touching the horns, and they were pretty smooth."
Regarding the Christmas Eve flying the animals are known for, Dylan stated, "I don't think they get the magic until they get to the North Pole."
Connor Peterson, 8, of Eau Claire also said he was excited to see the reindeer and confident they would once again fulfill their role in helping Santa Claus deliver presents - Connor's favorite part of Christmas.
For the record, Wittmer confided that Donder and Blitzen, both females, will be busy making appearances at holiday events every weekend until they report for their Christmas Eve duties.
Kristin Berg called Christmastime in the City a nice holiday family event.
"There are definitely a lot of things to do, so it's a great way to get the kids out of the house," she said.
Such comments are holiday music to the ears of Salina Heller, promotions coordinator for Downtown Eau Claire Inc., the organizer of the event, which also included a Lunch with Santa and Mrs. Claus at The Lismore, holiday cookie decorating, a performance by Memorial High School's Madrigal Singers and a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.
 The relatively balmy weather may not have felt like Christmas, Heller said, but it likely encouraged people to stay longer and kept them more comfortable as they waited in line for the popular horse-drawn wagon rides around downtown. 
More than 1,000 people took the free rides last year, and the pace was equally as brisk Saturday, with about two dozen folks departing on rides every 10 minutes on two wagons, one pulled by a pair of brown Belgians and the other by two gray Percherons.
The event added a dash of holiday festiveness to the enthusiasm the community already feels about the recent surge in downtown development, Heller said.
"There is such an excitement going on downtown," she said. "Everybody just feels the energy, and Christmas just adds to all of the things we've already got going on downtown."
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