Reindeer, Santa visit New Orleans

Advocate Staff Photo by ALEXANDER BARKOFF -- Emma Grace Grabert, 8 months old, checks out a reindeer with her grandfather, John Demaria, at the Fair Grounds Family Fun Day in New Orleans Saturday. Entertainment included live reindeer, face painting and, of course, a chance to visit Santa Claus.
Advocate Staff Photo by ALEXANDER BARKOFF -- Emma Grace Grabert, 8 months old, checks out a reindeer with her grandfather, John Demaria, at the Fair Grounds Family Fun Day in New Orleans Saturday. Entertainment included live reindeer, face painting and, of course, a chance to visit Santa Claus.

Family Fun Day at the Fair Grounds Race Course attracted veterans and newcomers, kids and adults and even the son of a certain red-nosed reindeer.

As part of the race track’s annual Super Santa Saturday slate of stakes races, Family Fun Day featured face-painting, cookie decorating, visits with Santa and a chance to pet two live reindeer, Dancer and Baby Rudy, the 1-year-old offspring of Rudolph.

The reindeer are owned by Zoo 2 U based in the St. Tammany Parish village of Folsom, where proprietors Michelle and Jason Frannino offer a petting zoo to families in the area.

However, every Saturday before Christmas, the Franninos bring two of their reindeer to the Fair Grounds for Family Fun Day, giving kids a chance to have their picture taken with Dancer and Baby Rudy, as well as with pairs of antlers, which the deer shed every year.

Saturday was Zoo 2 U’s seventh time participating in the event, and Michelle Frannino said the event was as fun as ever.

“With the weather being so nice today, we’ve had a great turnout,” she said. “Kids are having their pictures taken with the antlers and everything. It just brings Santa and Christmas to life.”

One of the children who saw the reindeer up close Saturday was 22-month-old Torin Poe, who came with his father, also named Torin, and the elder Poe’s girlfriend, Cecily Coats, who said that in addition to the Christmas activities, Family Fun Day allows children a glimpse of the racehorses.

“The kids like it,” Coats said of Family Fun Day. “It’s good for them to see the horses in the paddock.”

“I didn’t like tripping over the antlers, though,” Coats added with a laugh.

The festivities at the Fair Grounds on Saturday also included food vendors, with fare such as fish tacos, Korean barbecue chicken pitas and authentic German bratwurst.

The latter was provided by Bratz Y’All, a new business in New Orleans that caters events such as the one at the Fair Grounds. The business is owned by chef Sven Vorkauf, who brought cook Mark St. James with him.

“This is a beautiful event,” St. James said as he flipped some brats on the grill. “We’ve had very nice people. We’d like to keep doing this. It’s a great place.”

While Vorkauf and St. James were attending Family Fun Day for the first time, the Creel family was making a return visit to the event.

Five-year-old Emma Creel took advantage of the face painting, getting a rainbow-hued butterfly painted around her eye.

While Emma was shy and just nodded in the affirmative when asked how she liked Family Fun Day, her father, Tye, said the family was having a great time, as usual.

“It’s great that they can include things for the whole family,” he said.