Workers were as busy as Santa’s elves on a recent weekend morning getting everything ready for the 23rd annual Christmas at the Old Lutz School.
Members of The Citizens for the Old Lutz School Building organize volunteers who dress up the iconic community building for the holidays each year.
Then, the organization hosts several evenings each holiday season — inviting both young and old to come out and tour the building, which has a Georgian architectural style and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rooms inside the school are decked with holiday trees, trains chugging through miniature villages, a nutcracker collection, and other seasonal decor. This year, a large display of Lego blocks has been added.
Outdoors, visitors can enjoy more holiday decorations, and can watch movies and live performances in an entertainment tent.
Those dropping by can also enjoy free cookies, hot cocoa and coffee, said Stephanie Ensor, who helps organize the volunteers who help transform the old school into a Christmas house.
All of the evening activities are free of charge, although donations of nonperishable foods and new toys are accepted, to help families in need.
There’s also a breakfast with Santa, scheduled for Dec. 14, when Santa will be there from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. For $4, children will be served a donut and juice, and will get some tickets for craft activities. Other foods also will be available for purchase.
During that same event, the school will be open, so visitors can peruse items in its museum, and can check out the holiday handiwork.
Of course, getting everything ready for the festivities requires a fair amount of work.
This year’s volunteer crew includes longtime Lutz residents, members of Citizens for the Old Lutz School, and students from Land O’ Lakes Academy, and Steinbrenner and Freedom high schools.
One recent weekend, a group of youths was busy assembling the entertainment tent.
“We’ll light it up, raise it up, get it all decorated,” Ensor said.
“Every night we’ll have a little bit of something going on in the tent,” she added.
Some volunteers, including Wally Hoedt, have helped get the annual season event ready since the tradition began, nearly a quarter-century ago.
Hoedt meticulously lays out nine train tracks, which run through displays set up around them.
He, and others, enjoys sharing their handiwork.
“It we did it at home, nobody would enjoy them (the displays),” he said. At the school, however, “a lot of people get to enjoy what we do,” Hoedt said.
Annie Fernandez, who was born in Lutz, enjoys pitching in, too. She, Helen Cantrell and Patty Denison were busy arranging wreaths and other seasonal décor inside the schoolhouse.
Jason Burkett, and his daughter, Gabrielle — are new helpers this year.
Burkett visited the display last year and saw a small Lego display.
He told one of the volunteers that he had a collection of Legos and could contribute to the display, if they needed help.
He got a call in September, asking him if he would still like to help, and immediately went to work, assembling parts of the display.
He figures the display he is setting up at the school is made up of about 28,000 pieces.
One end of the display features a Star Wars theme, and the other end features stores and holiday scenes.
Ben Nevel, chairman of Citizens for the Old Lutz School Building, said he’s pleased that volunteers step up to help create the annual holiday tradition.
It’s a favorite spot for families to bring their children, and for community members who want to catch up with old friends.
“Community is where we started as a country,” Nevel said. “To continue that 200 years later is what it’s about.”
Entertainment is still being lined up, so groups or individuals who want to offer musical entertainment are invited to get involved.
Have breakfast with Santa, and crafts for the kids
Where: Old Lutz School, 18819 N. U.S. 41
When: Dec. 14, 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Christmas at the Old Lutz School
Where: Old Lutz School, 18819 N. U.S. 41
When: From 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 10, Dec. 12, Dec. 14, Dec. 17, Dec. 19, Dec. 20, Dec. 21, Dec. 26 and Dec. 27.
Details: The historic schoolhouse will be open to the public for its viewing pleasure, and there will be performances in an outdoor entertainment tent.
Cost: Admission is free, but barrels will be there to collect nonperishable food items and new toys for families in need.
Published December 04, 2019