ORINDA -- Forget XBOX. The key to young kids' unmitigated holiday joy was revealed at Orinda Theatre Square on Dec. 14 with a super-sized sandbox, jumbo carrots, skinny sticks and Zamboni-ed ice shavings -- "snow," courtesy of Walnut Creek on Ice and SpecialIce.
After the Livermore-based seasonal ice rink company unloaded pickup truckloads of the white stuff, it was exuberant, frosty mayhem -- especially when the yellow "caution" tape barriers were stripped away.
"Yes, we thought we'd have the kids line up and go in, just a few at a time," said Heather McAllister, account manager for the shopping and dining center's marketing/media company The Marcom Group as the kids poured in. "Obviously, that's not happening."
The grin on McAllister's face was mirrored by approximately 70 adults, who formed a ring around the central, beehive-like activity. Dressed in a mishmash of shorts, boots, snow pants and T-shirts, some mittened, some barehanded, spectators and kids celebrated the simple wonders of snow seldom seen in these parts.
"He's probably going to put it in his mouth," Tiffany Cooper of El Sobrante predicted about her 9-month-old son Solomon's first encounter with snow. "That's where everything goes at this age." With an upcoming Tahoe excursion, Cooper wanted her first child to have a cool "warm-up" beforehand. Mittened hands immersed in snow, Solomon was momentarily too dazzled by the experience to resort to tasting.
Orinda residents Peter and Briana Van Den Broeck's 15-month-old daughter Bryn was even more circumspect. Perfectly content to observe from a ringside table, Bryn blew kisses instead of tossing snowballs.
"She was curious, but she tends to keep her distance," Peter said. "We don't see snow in Theatre Square every day."
Ava Christofferson, a 9-year-old from Lafayette, had never seen snow before, but her advanced years lent sophistication to her response. "I like how you can mold it. I made a small snowman and named it 'Fred,' so it started with an 'F,' like 'Frosty,' but it was special."
Jamie Bornstein said her two sons, Brodrick, 7, and Colton, 5, had been asking repeatedly, "Is today the snow day, mom?" Snowman-making interrupted, answering a question their mother posed ("What do you think of the snow?"), Colton kept his response short: "It's cool," before diving back into the frenzy.
Cooperation and calculation were at play, with clusters of children helping each other thrust carrots into snowman heads and the occasional snowball going airborne.
"Something hit me ... it's good!" Owen Luther, 6, called to his father.
Addison Erickson displayed the creativity found only in a 6-year-old child. Confronted with the packed-down-denser-than-concrete snow under her feet -- and still dreaming of making snow angels -- the El Sobrante native used her feet. Twisting her hips back-and-forth, wings emerged, a strategically placed ball of snow formed a head.
Addison's angel brought a blissful smile to her mother's face. "I have fond memories of being in the snow and they've been begging to see snow. This is a lot closer than Tahoe, so it's great," she said.
McAllister said the expansion of the center's annual holiday events, adding the second weekend's Real Snow Fun and Horse and Carriage Rides to the usual tree lighting, Santa visits and Miramonte High School carolers, brought extra holiday magic to the square. "SpecialIce provided all of the snow and labor free-of-charge, too, so there's a real sense of community here," she said. "We'll definitely do this again."