MARION — Despite rain and unseasonably warm weather, the village of Marion officially opened the Christmas season Saturday evening.

There was not a snowflake in sight, but the mood was festive as neighbors, friends and families gathered for the annual Christmas kickoff celebration, a community event organized by the Marion Chamber of Commerce with support from local residents and groups.

The fun began with the cheery sound of sleigh bells as kids and grown-ups enjoyed horse-drawn wagon rides through Veterans Memorial Park on the banks of the Middle Branch River.

The wagon was pulled in grand style by magnificent American Shire draft horses from Butch and Katie Ruppert’s farm in LeRoy. Weighing in at about 1,800 pounds, the gentle giants were crowd favorites.

A special program for children was held at the Marion Fraternal Order of Eagles from 5 to 6:30 p.m. where more than 60 boys and girls gathered to take part in a variety of Christmas activities, each supported by a local organization.

Busy fingers and creative imaginations were hard at work designing Christmas cards using bright stickers, crayons, markers and glitter donated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6015.

At the Chamber of Commerce table, children wrote personal letters to Santa Claus which they posted to the North Pole in a red mailbox.

The Marion Arbor of Gleaners sponsored two activities — decorating shiny Christmas ornaments and making bead bracelets.

Sponsored by the Eagles, a favorite with kids was decorating tasty Christmas cookies with colorful icing and sprinkles.

Pastor Jim Mort from Marion United Methodist Church was on hand to show DVDs of classic Christmas movies.

Julie Stevens from Marion came with 8-year old Wyat Soule. “I think it’s great because it’s a community event,” said Stevens. “I wanted Wyat to come and have fun with his friends who are here too, and it’s a nice thing to do at Christmas time.”

Suzie Nowland brought 4-year-old Britton. “It’s a good program,” said Nowland. “It gets kids in the Christmas spirit. They all heard about it in school and got excited about coming, so we thought we would be sure and join the fun.”

Following the children’s program at the Eagles, activities shifted to the park pavilion where chamber members served hot dogs, hot chocolate and cookies.

The lights were illuminated on the village Christmas tree before a crowd of more than 100 who joined in singing Christmas songs and carols. The singing was led by Pastor Paulette Zoulek from Pisgah Heights Wesleyan Church, Nadine and Bill Brinks, and Henry Eisenga on the guitar.

“I love being a part of the singing,” said Eisenga. “I’ve been doing it for at least eight years, maybe ten. It’s warm tonight, but last year it was really cold and my fingers were so cold, I couldn’t play my guitar.”

A highlight of the evening was the arrival of Santa who took time to speak with all the children and listen to their Christmas lists. Playing Santa for the seventh year was Jon Tenney from Marion, looking jovial in his red suit and long beard.

“I love being Santa,” said Tenney. “I have eight grandchildren and it’s a great way to be part of the kids having fun, and I hear a lot of funny stories from kids every year.”

Everyone in the area is invited to enjoy the Christmas ambience in Marion. Main Street is aglow at night with bright lights and decorations — the village tree and life-size nativity figures stand in the park for residents and visitors to see as they walk or drive along M-66. All that’s needed now to complete the traditional holiday scene is a blanket of glistening white snow.