Old Man Winter didn't prevent more than 350 children and families from taking part in the South Ward Playground Association's Christmas Festival of Lights held last night at the South Ward Playground in Tamaqua.

Tears of joy could be seen trickling down the face of Cecilia "Nanny" Jones, president of the playground association, as Santa Claus arrived on a fire truck to turn on more than 14,000 lights, some dancing to Christmas music.

"It took two other volunteers, Lee Calkins and Joe Yarnell, and myself just over 90 man-hours to place all these lights," said Justin Startzel, key volunteer, and association member.

In addition to the tree lighting and park illumination, families were treated to free face painting, drawing, popcorn, cotton candy, hot chocolate, cookies, and, of course, a chance to sit on Santa's lap.

Santa gave gift bags to all children who attended, while some won new bikes or handheld electronic devices during the association's free prize contest.

Special appreciation was given to Schroeder Family Farms, South Ward Fire Company, Donna Lech, Julie Leopard and Ed Smith for providing volunteers, materials and other items.

"I am extremely surprised with the great turnout," said volunteer Michelle Mehallic.

Startzel, Jones and Mehallic expressed their combined additional appreciation to all the volunteers that came out to treat the community to a dazzling good time.

Startzel said the lights will remain lit at the park until the second week of January.