Area children had the chance to meet their favorite storybook characters, as well as Santa Claus, on Dec. 9, when Visit Gahanna hosted the annual Holiday Character Breakfast, sponsored by Meijer.

The Ohio Herb Education Center, 110 Mill St., also hosted Santa as Gahanna Parks and Recreation offered take-it-home crafts and its inaugural "Elf School."

Beth McCollam, the recreation department's marketing coordinator, said 520 visitors came to the Herb Center Dec. 9, when 194 children visited Santa and 43 new elves were trained.

"There were 43 elves who graduated for a 100 percent training-to-completion ratio," she said.

Participants completed three activities to be "elf certified."

Gahanna's Fiona Souder, 4, was extremely excited to meet Santa, said Colleen Souder, her mother.

Fiona greeted him with a big hug and stroked his beard while sitting on his lap.

Youngsters will have another opportunity to attend Elf School and put in their wish lists with Santa when he returns Saturday, Dec. 16, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Herb Center.

Laurie Jadwin, director of the Visit Gahanna, said the Holiday Character Breakfast marked the third event of Visit Gahanna's "Holiday Lights Celebration" series, with the other two being the Holiday Lights Celebration and Tree Lighting held Nov. 19 and the Santa Race 5K and Little Reindeer Dash held Dec. 2.

"More than 350 attendees from all over the Columbus region attended this beloved holiday event, which has become an annual tradition for many across central Ohio," she said. "Based on our registrations, approximately half of the attendees were returning guests, while the other half experienced the Holiday Character Breakfast for the first time."

Jadwin said it's a treat for Visit Gahanna staff to welcome new guests to the event, as well as the familiar faces.

Westerville's Nick and Whitney Presutto brought their 16-month-old daughter, Alyssa, to the event.

She carried a stuffed animal and squealed with delight while meeting and sharing her toy with the Gingerbread Boy and Girl.

"We thought she would like this," Whitney Presutto said. "We found out about it on Facebook."

In addition to visiting with the characters, attendees have the chance to catch their own flapjacks as Gahanna's Timothy Stephens, 9, did, in addition to catching the cakes for other members of his family.

"Guests are excited to share stories of how many times they have attended the breakfast with their children through the years," Jadwin said. "Several families use the breakfast to meet up, spend some time together, and share their own gift exchange and holiday party."

Visit Gahanna also partnered with the Columbus Children's Theatre, which presented an abbreviated performance of its current play, "Mr. Scrooge."

Breakfast guests were able to pick up a discount coupon for tickets to the full performance, which runs at the Park Street Theatre through Saturday, Dec. 23.

Make-and-take crafts and activities were also provided by several organizations, including CenterPoint Church, Gahanna Residents in Need, the Ohio Paper Folders, the Gahanna branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and the Gahanna Lincoln High School cheerleaders.

"During the event, it is heartwarming to watch the many little faces light up at the sight of the Gingerbread Boy and Girl or their favorite book character," Jadwin said. "This year's event featured Olivia the Pig, who was present to greet the guests as well.

"Of course, nothing beats the sound of the squeals of delight that echo down the hallway when they first spot Santa," Jadwin said.

Santa Claus said Gahanna children are near the top of the good list this year, even the big kids, such as Mayor Tom Kneeland and Gahanna-Jefferson Local Schools Superintendent Steve Barrett.

According to Santa, some of the items on the children's Christmas lists included anything dealing with princesses for the girls, American Girl dolls, Lego sets, Barbie dolls, clothes, basketballs, footballs and video games.