Cayla’s Column: A holiday party for wildlife

Cayla’s Column: A holiday party for wildlife

By Cayla Rosenhagen

Cayla Rosenhagen

What do you get when you combine a fun, learning experience full of incredible creatures with a festive, homemade craft fair? Magic and fun for the whole family!

The festival took place at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown on December 4. I arrived with my family a little after dusk, eager to see the rescue animals and browse the tents full of artwork and handicrafts. Vendors’ booths were spread out across the lawn, sparkling with colorful fairy lights and candles, and decked with festive garlands. 

Smiling festival-goers walked around sipping hot chocolate, visiting the shops, and meeting the ambassador animals, accompanied by friendly and knowledgeable Sweetbriar volunteers. The upbeat music of local ska and pop-punk cover band Crisis Crayons contributed to the cheerful atmosphere.

Many of the vendors I met with sold nature-related goods and artwork. For instance, Audra Donroe is an art teacher and creator from Northport. Her vibrant and stunning display of work ranged from original artwork and prints to postcards and ornaments utilizing natural imagery such as owls and plant life. She grew up coming to Sweetbriar and has been vending for 4 years. “Any chance I have to bring awareness and support to Sweetbriar, I gladly do it,” she says.

I also visited a booth selling organic, homemade elderberry syrup. It was run by the business’s founders, Connor and Tommy, aged 7 and 9, and their parents. I spoke with their mother, Michelle Biddle, who explained that elderberry is a natural remedy for cold and allergy symptoms.  

Other vendors included Once Upon A Favor, who were selling irresistibly aromatic bath bombs, soaps, and candles, and Beast Makers, who sold one-of-a-kind jewelry and occult items made out of ethically sourced animal bones and antlers.

Throughout the event, volunteers from the Center gave presentations about some of the animals who are permanent residents there. Guests met Opal the Virginia Opossum, Seven of Nine the Barred Owl, Stitch the Red-tailed Hawk, Nebula the Barn Owl, and more. Sweetbriar provides care for over 100 animals.  For many of them, Sweetbriar is their forever home as they cannot be released back into the wild due to their injuries.

According to Sweetbriar’s program coordinator, Veronica Sayers, the Holiday Party is an annual event that has taken place for around 40 years. Veronica explained that vendors pay a fee to take part in the event, and the proceeds go towards food and other vital resources for the animals Sweetbriar rehabilitates and cares for.

The event itself was free for visitors, although donations were appreciated. If you are interested in donating to help support the Center’s work and the animals in their care, please see their website for more details on how to do so. Other ways to show your support include spreading the word about Sweetbriar and attending their upcoming events. These include the Owl Prowl on December 9, weekly yoga classes, and the Superheroes of the Sky raptor event on January 1st.

Come visit Sweetbriar and be mesmerized by the incredible animals yourself! The Nature Center and Preserve at 62 Eckernkamp Drive in Smithtown are open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, please call 631-979-6344 or visit

Cayla Rosenhagen is a local high school student who enjoys capturing the unique charm of the community through photography and journalism. She serves on the board of directors for the Four Harbors Audubon Society and Brookhaven’s Youth Board, and is the founder and coordinator of Beach Bucket Brigade, a community outreach program dedicated to environmental awareness, engagement, and education. She is also an avid birder, hiker, and artist who is concurrently enrolled in college, pursuing a degree in teaching.