Thousands of Central Texans braved the chill in the air last Friday night to participate in the festivities during the 14th annual Frost Fest at Market Heights shopping center in Harker Heights.

People who attended no doubt will have memories of Santa Claus, clad in a harness for safety, waving and wishing folks a Merry Christmas from aboard a Harker Heights Fire Department ladder truck.

Heather Buller, activities coordinator for the City of Harker Heights Parks and Recreation Department, estimated around 5,000 people attended the three-hour event, surpassing the crowd of 3,000 last year.

“I think people saw we had more activities this year,” Buller said. “We have Santa. That makes it special.”

Plenty of people braved a line snaking through the parking lot to have their pictures taken in a huge snow globe that was complete with fake snow.

Others enjoyed Christmas shopping and browsing the goods of 42 vendors while Skye Strickler, an Austin-based singer and songwriter, entertained.

“It’s a way for the city to invite the community out to enjoy the festivities. We enjoy putting this together for them,” Buller said. “We live in a transient community, with Fort Hood right down the street, so people are moving in and out. That means many don’t get a chance to feel invested in their community so events like this is a way to do that.”

Another way to invest in the community is through Santa Pals, a collaboration between the Harker Heights Fire Department and the Lion’s Club. People dropped off their new, unwrapped presents at Frost Fest.

Glenn Gallenstein, deputy fire chief, said the goal is to help around 120 to 150 local families including 600 children. They are taking donations at the station and the activities center through today.

He said toys especially are needed for older children ages 12-17.

“We need toys as well as monetary donations so we can fill any gaps. We always seem to run a little short so that’s where the monetary donations help.”

Santa Pals has been going on for at least 25 years, he said.

“All the presents go to children in this community,” Gallenstein said. Next week the families who applied for Santa Pals will get to drive through the bay of the fire department and firefighters will fill their vehicle with toys and a family meal with all the fixings.

“It’s my favorite program because we get to affect a lot of lives and help a lot of people,” Gallenstein said. “We’ve all had hard times so its nice to make sure every kid gets a toy for Christmas. It’s all about Christmas spirit and community spirit.”

Plenty of community spirit was on display at the synthetic ice skating rink as people helped each other up after falls.

John Hadley, a volunteer at the rink, said he saw more kids than grown-ups strapping on skates.

“I think they like it. It’s been mostly kids and teenagers skating. The ground seems harder when you’re an adult,” Hadley said.

The rink actually was not icy at all, but rather a polymer plastic material like a cutting board, Hadley explained. It was sprayed with a biodegradable oil to make it slick.

“I think everyone out here is having a good time. It’s Frost Fest and it’s frosty,” he said.

In addition to community spirit, there was ample family spirit, too.

Danalee Webb, of Harker Heights, was all smiles with her husband and three kids, all of whom had hot chocolate and cookies given out by the city. It was the family’s first year attending Frost Fest.

“It looked like fun and it hasn’t disappointed so far; plus it’s free,” Webb said.

They had their picture taken in the snow globe, but arriving before the line got long.

“I’m glad we got here when we did,” Webb said.

What did the kids like best?

“Hot chocolate!” they said in unison.

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