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A very special Christmas ornament

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Brooksville Main Street event organizers would say there’s nothing like it in this area or anywhere! They just might be onto something, referring to the newest and most striking addition to the glimmering winter wonderland in downtown Brooksville: a striking 16-foot tall and 15-foot wide Christmas ornament. Unfortunately, it’s far too large to fit on the vast majority of yuletide trees!

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Designed by Mark Reichard and welded by Archie Cooper, this year marked the introduction of the ornament that shines forth with a rainbow spectrum of 256,000 colors. As impressive as the glowing exterior is, the interior itself is a true gift enveloped in gorgeous wrapping. Guests walk into the ornament to find hidden treasures: a gleaming sleigh in which families can take photos and a mailbox that accepts only one form of correspondence: letters to Santa, which Father Christmas himself can answer.

“Barbara Manuel (original chair of the Promotion Committee for Brooksville Main Street) came up with this idea,” said Natalie Kahler, executive director of Brooksville Main Street. “She wanted a space where people could take photos during the holiday season and have fun.”
Kahler said that the ornament was a popular part of the Dec. 1 Tree Lighting, a Main Street tradition that revolves around the lighting of a 30-foot, 8,000-light emerald-hued tree in front of the Brooksville Courthouse. This year, this event was made all the more special by the presence of the ornament.

“Just as many people were lined up to take pictures inside the ornament as they were beside the tree,” said Kahler. “Sometimes they would wait to see their favorite color, whether it was red, pink, green, etc.” With good reason too! The sleigh found within the ornament is the $6,000 Santa’s Sleigh that Main Street procured and dedicated to Dennis Wilfong, who honored his home city through his endless and selfless record of community service. Come Christmas every year in Brooksville, Wilfong became a Santa for the community. Dennis and his family also made Christmas happen for families in need, shopping for and wrapping gifts for them before Dennis donned a red suit and made deliveries.

When Wilfong passed away on August 26, 2021, at age 74, Brooksville Main Street executive director Natalie Kahler honored this businessman by launching Santa’s Sleigh, a Go Fund Me fundraiser to purchase a sleigh in his name. The sleigh would be positioned outside in the downtown area throughout the Christmas season for family photo opportunities. It’s a real sleigh with a harness, a sleigh of wood and metal with vinyl seats, a four-seater 4 feet wide and 8 feet long.

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Now this sleigh is found inside yet another community symbol of yuletide joviality. “Dennis’ wife loves the silvery metal that comprises the ornament,” Kahler said. ” ‘Silver Bells’ was Dennis’ favorite Christmas song.” Also alongside the sleigh is a very special mailbox that kids can fill with letters for Santa, to which, if they include self-addressed stamped envelopes, they will receive replies.

Beyond being a symbol of the season, Kahler has another descriptive term to apply to the Main Street Christmas ornament. “It’s a work of art.”

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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