By Josette Keelor
On Saturday, area residents and visitors made their way to downtown Front Royal for the all-day Christkindlmarkt and the late afternoon holiday parade on Main Street.
Vendors and volunteers at the festival said the day's crowds were slow to start, but they expected the parade would bolster their numbers later in the day.
Christkindlmarkt began Friday afternoon in the parking lot behind the town's Gazebo at the Commons but was forced to close early at 5:30 p.m. because of rain.
Saturday the sky was clear, but cold, and over their smiles visitors wore hats and scarves.
At a table for the Salvation Army, Lt. Pradeep Ramaji, commanding officer of the Front Royal branch, said he and his wife Priscilla were passing out free coffee "to serve the people."
"It's a cold day," he said. "We wanted them to be warm."
The couple was there on Friday too, serving stalwart visitors who braved the rain. Donations collected at their table will go to the food pantry for food bags and the organization's expenses.
Ramaji said the local branch's goal this year is $60,000 in kettle donations and $40,000 in mailing efforts. Next Saturday, food drives will be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Wal-Mart in Luray and Front Royal, and he asked that donors bring non-perishable canned food items.
In his fourth year volunteering at the festival, he said he expected more visitors to show up, but nevertheless, with the parade that evening, he said, "It's going busy."
In the next tent over, members of Girl Scouts of America Troop 40326 Emelie Daniels, 13, and Madison Courtney, 12, were encouraging festival-goers to bring by their purchases for the girls to wrap as gifts with colored wrapping paper and ribbons.
Troop leader Kris Stafira said the cadets were there raising money to go to New York City next June where "We're gonna see everything."
Daniels, of Front Royal, said she's looking forward to seeing the Statue of Liberty, "and the Hard Rock Café, which I really, really want to go to."
She said the girls attended Christkindlmarkt all day Saturday, and "there seems to be more food tents than gift tents, but that's OK, they're having a good time."
At one of those food tents, Pastor R. Payllo of Diestro LLC was selling chocolate rice products and gluten-free foods made from quinoa.
Having attended the fair last year, he agreed crowds were milder Saturday but said they picked up throughout the day.
First time attendees Kathy and John Offerman of Shenandoah Farms in Warren County were excited to be able to attend the festivities Saturday, having moved to the area in June.
"Absolutely love it here," Offerman said.
Longtime Warren County residents Jennifer Barr and her daughter Shilah, 13, spent the first part of the day volunteering at the Salvation Army's coffee table before making the rounds themselves.
Shilah said she enjoys seeing the musical acts, and she also was looking forward to the parade.
And as expected, close to the start of the 4 p.m. parade, the downtown area began to fill up in anticipation. Lucy Newby, who was there with her 3-year-old son Liam Moore and her mother Sarah Newby, waited for the parade to start while the family warmed up over hot chocolate.
It's a yearly tradition for them, ever since she was a child, but this year would be a special one for Liam, a big "Star Wars" fan.
"He heard Darth Vader was going to be on the Press Start floats," she said, "so he's pretty excited about that."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org