For more than 25 years, members of the Westerville Senior Association brought holiday cheer to local children with simple holiday crafts and activities at the Westerville Senior Center during the annual Snowflake Castle.
There were paper reindeer hats, face painting, visits with Santa and a room filled with boxes wrapped like presents for kids to play with.
Last year, however, organizers decided to turn the annual activity around.
The event was moved to Everal Barn and Homestead, and simple paper crafts became wooden toys that children assembled with the help of "elves" and power tools and painted.
A snow machine provided ambiance, and children could venture to the homestead to have their pictures taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
"The previous 27 years, it was the same program," said Westerville Senior Center Program Supervisor Christopher Shirring. "An opportunity was given to upgrade that, and we took it."
Last year's event garnered media attention, and the results were so outstanding that the senior association has had to issue tickets to the Snowflake Castle for the first time in its 29-year history, said senior association volunteer Lloyd Kuschner.
"Last year, we had TV coverage, and it just exploded," Kuschner said. "We never expected that. (Attendance) at least tripled."
Organizers were especially surprised, Shirring said, because they expected attendance to decline because of the program change.
"Any time you change something that's been around for three decades, you expect some deflection," Shirring said. "We sold almost every toy we had prepared."
During the weeklong event, nearly 1,800 children visited the castle. The event, which typically has attracted the preschool crowd, also brought in older children, who enjoyed working with tools to create a toy, Shirring said.
At times, there was up to a 2.5-hour wait to build a toy, Kuschner said.
Even with the crowds, people were patient and positive about the event, Kuschner said, but parents and caregivers this year are being asked to call the Westerville Senior Center at 614-901-6560 to reserve a time slot. Tickets are $5 per child and need to be picked up in advance at the center, 310 W. Main St.
The Snowflake Castle will run evening, afternoon and morning sessions Dec. 2-7. The ticket covers the cost of making a wooden toy with Santa's "elves" and getting pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Ticket sales also support the senior association, which supports the senior center activities and a multitude of community charities and initiatives.
The three toys children could choose from last year -- a bear, train and castle -- will return with two new selections: a caboose and Christmas tree.
Santa's sleigh also will be parked in the homestead's carriage house for "self-guided tours." Snowflake Castle visitors will be able to explore and take pictures on the sleigh.
The paths of Heritage Park also will be lit with Christmas lights for the first time.
The goal for organizers, Shirring said, is to keep the Snowflake Castle evolving each year.
"It's something you can come to every year and not get tired of it," Shirring said. "It's going to be different every year."