“It’s all about how he’s going to come in — that’s the surprise,” says Lynn Sehwerert, a member of the Christmas Eve Program Committee that organizes Santa’s annual arrival in Woodstock by whatever unorthodox means they can come up with.
When the tradition began, over 70 years ago, the vehicles were simple, if sometimes startling: a horse-drawn sleigh, a fire truck, an elephant, a camel. As technology expanded, so did creativity, leading to such devices as a hot-air balloon, a spaceship, a giant candy cane, a giant dove, a gingerbread house on wheels, a flying Volkswagen bus.
Each year, the plan is so secret, that only a couple members of the five-person committee know what it is. Ideas for Santa’s entrance often come from the crew of volunteers that help with the event. Several ideas are submitted, and one or two committee members make the selection, leaving their cohorts in the dark. “It’s more fun that way,” says Sehwerert.
The event is centered around the Village Green, and Santa can arrive any time after the 5 p.m. bus to New York passes through, the signal for the police to close down Tinker Street. (His usual arrival time is around 5:30 p.m.) Arrive early to find a place to park, since upwards of 3000 people sometimes gather.
Attendance varies with the weather and the day of the week. With Christmas Eve on a Saturday this year, “We’re anticipating a larger-than-life crowd,” says Sehwerert. “If it’s freezing cold and snowing and sleeting, some people would rather stay at home and hear about it the next day, but there are always some diehards who come out.”
While waiting for Santa, the crowd is serenaded by carolers and musicians in front of the Dutch Reformed Church.
After his grand entrance, Santa makes his way to the center of the green and hands out stockings filled with candy and other goodies — including Hanukkah treats — to the line of children who pass by, hopefully in orderly procession. Santa’s elves are there to maintain order and make sure each child gets a stocking.
For those who are homebound, cheer baskets are delivered, containing a Christmas card, candy, fruit, chocolates. Some people in need receive food baskets, which include all the fixings for a holiday dinner.
The biggest challenge for the committee, says Sehwerert, is “trying to pull it all together to make it all happen in an hour. It starts early in October, when a mailing goes out for donations — the event is totally funded by donations. After that, we have to put together lists for people to get the contents for the stockings and the cheer and food baskets. We get phone calls suggesting that someone might need cheering up or has had some economic downturn and might need a food basket.”
Then the 1000 stockings are stuffed, and the baskets are filled and wrapped. The choir and musicians have to be organized, and of course, there’s Santa’s vehicle to be designed and implemented. All the work is done by volunteers.
For Sehwerert, the reward is getting to “see and hear the anticipation and then the reaction the next day. It’s a fabulous tradition, and everybody looks forward to it. It’s such a fun night.”
In spite of a difficult economy, area residents are always generous when it comes to making donations to offset the costs of the celebration that can reach $10,000 to $12,000 a year for Santa’s arrival, the stockings, and the food and cheer baskets. Anyone who would like to make a donation to the Woodstock Christmas Eve Committee can send a tax-deductible check to the committee, in care of BankAmerica, Mill Hill Road, Woodstock, NY, 12498.
And come to the Woodstock Village Green at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve to see Santa’s arrival!++
A Phoenicia Christmas
A series of Christmas events will take place in Phoenicia on Friday, December 23:
3 p.m. — Meet Santa at Ulster Savings Bank, 58 Main St.
4 p.m. — Free holiday concert by Uncle Rock and friends, STS Playhouse, Church St.
5 p.m. — Caroling around the bonfire with Santa, plus cider and cookies, Mama’s Boy Cafe, Main St.
6 p.m. — Caroling on Main St.
7:30 p.m. — Handel’s Messiah (one-hour version) with the Phoenicia Community Choir, accompanist Justin Kolb, and soloists Amy Wallace, Brittany Sokolowski, Maria Todaro, Kerry Henderson, Louis Otey, Charles Sokolowski, and CJ Sokolowski, Wesleyan Church, 24 Main St, admission free.
And on Christmas Day:
1 p.m.-4 p.m. — Free community Christmas dinner at Sportsmen’s Alamo Cantina on Main St.++