Also without compare are the modes of transportation that Santa has employed over the years to make his big entrance. One year it was on the back of a giant dove; another from a flying saucer. Santa once slid into town down the neck of an oversized guitar; rode in on the back of a real elephant; and emerged from a diabetic-coma-sized candy cane. This year's vehicle is of course a closely guarded secret, but should be unique, as in previous years. "Nobody knows; nobody tells," said Paul DeLisio. It's a tall order, but the Big Guy hasn't disappointed yet.
DeLisio has been on the Woodstock Christmas Eve Committee for 43 years, and was concerned about too much emphasis on Santa's arrival and too little on the festivities and good deeds surrounding it. In the old days, he said, "Suddenly they'd turn the lights on the steeple of the [Woodstock Dutch Reformed] church, and the fire department would get Santa down." Pat Horner, of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, joked, "I suggested he come in on the bus." A familiar mode for many Woodstockers, but for Santa? It seems that he might need a bit more room.
Harry Castiglione, chairman of the committee for the last 40 years, said that the event has actually been scaled down somewhat over the years, and made less of a religious event and more of a secular one. "They used to have Christmas plays and make it a big extravaganza. That's been dropped over the years. Now it's Santa Claus comes to town and everybody's involved." He added, "We've been through blizzard and rainstorms. People have supported us a lot."
DeLisio listed some of the other activities that coincide with Santa's spectacular arrival. "We turn out about 300 cheer baskets every year," he said. These go to older Woodstockers who may be alone or ill, or anyone in the community who has suffered a loss, or "any kind of a reason that the community can give a little cheer basket." DeLisio welcomes any suggestions regarding future recipients of the baskets. Call his offices at (845) 339-4600 to offer names.
Additionally, 100 food baskets are delivered to those in need. Half of these are picked up at Family's offices on Rock City Road and the other half are delivered directly. The food baskets are prepared by the Hurley Ridge Market.
Everyone who goes to the Village Green on Christmas Eve gets a stocking from one of Santa's helpers after his arrival, as long as they hold out. Over 1,500 of these are prepared each year by committee member Ann Washington. "All of it's done through contributions," said DeLisio, from full-time community members and weekenders alike. DeLisio helps with the fundraising by sending out letters requesting donations, and he said, "We've never had a financial problem. People are very generous."
Santa's appearance this year may be a bit more low-key than villagers are used to. "It's just coming back to Santa arriving in a little more sane way. We're bringing it back to the singing and the stockings," said DeLisio. Some of Santa's vehicles have even proven problematic in the past. DeLisio recalls one year when, arriving in a dogsled, the heavy snowfall inspired the dogs pulling it to run, as is their nature: "They fired up that hill, came around that turn and dumped Santa!"
Castiglione was concerned about crowd control, but said that, for the most part, people were well-behaved. Castiglione, who has been having some health issues recently, said that his only Christmas wish is to "continue and still be able to do this next year. When you have your health, you have a lot going for you."
Santa is scheduled to arrive at 6 p.m., but the fun starts well before that, and the crowds can number anywhere from two to 3,000, so plan on arriving earlier. DeLisio said that a brass choir, led by Tom Keene, begins at 5 p.m. on the Green, and starts the crowd going with traditional carols. Then at 6 p.m., the lights around the Green are dimmed for a brief time. "Then we begin to search the sky for Santa's arrival," said DeLisio. By 7 p.m., DeLisio said, "The place is bare!" After all, it is Christmas Eve. "It's really a lovely community time."
The Village Green is at the intersection of Tinker Street and Mill Hill Road (Route 212) in Woodstock. Most shops will be open late for your last-minute shopping convenience. However, as Horner said, "It's not a big shopping night. It's a big community night." Castiglione said, "People can come together and have a good time." For more information, contact the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce at (845) 679-6234.