Polar Express, First Night fun to roll into downtown State College

First Night visitors fill South Allen Street during the 2016 festivities.
First Night visitors fill South Allen Street during the 2016 festivities. Centre Daily Times, file

Christmas comes but once a year. Fortunately holiday events in State College are a little bit easier to come by.

First up is Schlow Centre Region Library’s annual pilgrimage to Santa’s workshop at the North Pole.

Inspired by author Chris Van Allsburg’s Caldecott Medal winning children’s book, “The Polar Express,” the event aims to bring literature to life both on the page and in the streets.

A big part of that is the trolley that will transport kids and their families to the Claus residence, which is conveniently located in downtown State College.

Families often comment on how it's a annual tradition for their family and about how amazing the Santa's Workshop is for their kids to visit.

Paula Bannon

“This free event is a collaboration between Schlow Library and the Downtown Improvement District that works to bring people from all areas of our community together. That, combined with a wonderful story and the magic of being able to ride a trolley and visit Santa’s Workshop, is why families come back year after year,” Paula Bannon, head of children’s services at Schlow, said.

Families can pre-register for the Polar Express beginning at 9 a.m. on Nov. 28, either by calling 237-6236 or visiting the library’s children’s department.

After a reading of Van Allsburg’s story, children will be supplied with a coin to spend at Santa’s workshop after posing for a photo with the big guy himself.

“Families often comment on how it’s a annual tradition for their family and about how amazing the Santa’s Workshop is for their kids to visit,” Bannon said.

Once all of the Christmas magic dies down, Centre County residents will still have First Night to look forward to in downtown State College.

The New Year’s Eve tradition combines entertainment, carriage rides and Russian ice slides.

Executive Director Rick Bryant estimates that about 12,000 people attend the event each year.

We always try and have a dinosaur. That’s our rule.

Rick Bryant

“The public does love it. I hear that over and over,” Bryant said.

Chief among the regular attractions are the more than 100 blocks of ice that have been expertly carved into a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

Bryant’s all-time favorite sculpture remains an inventive retelling of George Washington’s trek across the Delaware River.

This year’s display is largely a mystery, but audiences can count on presence of an old familiar standby.

“We always try and have a dinosaur. That’s our rule,” Bryant said.

Those who are in the market for something new and different should turn an eye toward First Night’s performing schedule. For the first time ever, Bryant and company are sprinkling a few standup comedians among the usual lineup of musicians — including State College’s own Russell Jordan Poole.

“People like the angle that it’s a local kid,” Bryant said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

If you go

What: Polar Express

Where: Schlow Centre Region Library, 211 S. Allen St., State College

When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 2 and 9 and 2-4:20 p.m. Dec. 3 and 10

Info: www.schlowlibrary.org

What: First Night

When: Dec. 31

Where: various locations, downtown State College

Info: firstnightstatecollege.com