AN ESTIMATED 1500 people enjoyed a balmy night out in Littleton Gardens for Bega’s Christmas carols service on Thursday.
Many were also there for the Chamber of Commerce’s Bega On The Go promotion, where over $12,000 worth of prizes was given away.
It was the first time the two annual events had been held on the same night and Bega Chamber of Commerce vice-president John Watkin said it was a great success.
“Normally Bega On The Go is held the last week before Christmas but the combined churches raised the idea that it would be interesting to combine the two events,” Mr Watkin, who was also the night’s emcee, said.
“There was a family atmosphere before the carols with a jumping castle, face painting and people making balloon animals.
“The churches all had stands of their own to talk to people about their services, the Salvos were there with their toy drive and the Lions and Girl Guides were cooking up meals for everyone.
“It all worked really well – it was surprising to see how many people were there already at 5pm.”
Mr Watkin also praised the 30-piece orchestra, which was a combined effort of the Bega District Band and Sapphire Coast Concert Band led by conductor Peter Ongley.
Reverend Lucas Uhlman of the Bega Baptist Church, Reverend Ross Gear of the Anglican Church and Lieutenant Karen Harrison from the Salvos led the carol singing, backed up by members of the Catholic choir in a truly ecumenical service.
They were followed on stage by local musos Gary Carson-Jones and Candy McVeity, who entertained the crowd while gathering children eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa.
The arrival of the jolly fat man in the red suit on the back of a fire engine caused a mini riot as children flocked around him – and his big bag of lollies – barely allowing him to make his way from behind the stage to greet the main crowd in Littleton Gardens.
“It was chaos,” Mr Watkin said with a laugh, “but it was great and the children were right into it.”
After Santa’s departure came the moment the older faces in the crowd had been eagerly awaiting.
The Bega On The Go promotion ran for five weeks, with weekly draws for $250 Bega Bucks – credit that can be spent anywhere in over 40 participating businesses in the town.
On Thursday night it was the main draw, where the major prize was $5000 Bega Bucks.
It marked the 14th year of the Chamber of Commerce’s initiative promoting shopping locally.
“We do it for two reasons,” Mr Watkin said.
“It is to encourage people to buy local and therefore support local businesses and shop owners.
“But it’s also as a thank you to our customers at the end of the year and a way for us to give back to the community.”
Thirteen lucky names were drawn out of a barrel containing what Mr Watkin estimated was at least 20,000 entry forms.
They then picked at random a numbered envelope containing their prize, most of which had a minimum value of $500, Mr Watkin said.
“It was nice that no-one was particularly fussy,” he said.
“They were all just thankful to have their named called out and be up there.
“And there was a good spectrum of ages among the winners as well, which was good to see.”
Janelle Thomas was the major prize winner, collecting her $5000 thanks to the generosity of Bega Cheese – and the lucky envelope pick of her granddaughter who had joined her on stage.
Other winners on the night collected prizes including Bega Bucks courtesy of the Bega Chamber of Commerce and Priceline, Woolworths and Coles vouchers, and a variety of items from contributing businesses Mitre 10, Sportspower, Barbeques Galore, Anthony’s Car and Head Centre, Southern Home Furniture and Big W (see list of winners below).