Looking Back: A Tale of Firehouse Santa Tradition

Santa and Elaine Van Develde circa 1961

Because Santa Claus is coming to the Fair Haven firehouse … our annual reprise …

By Elaine Van Develde

It’s that time of the year for a longstanding Fair Haven tradition  — photos at the firehouse with Santa.

This year, Santa’s coming to the firehouse on Sunday.

It’s another Fair Haven tradition you can always count on.

I remember …

I don’t recall whether or not the Santa visit always took place on a Sunday. I do know that I was always there as a kid, from 1964 (OUCH) through the early 1970s. I was even taken there a few years before the move to a Fair Haven that would be home to three generations for 54 years (note the photo).

Though the memories of the specifics are somewhat fuzzy, the sentimentality and emotional ties are still as vivid as the red on Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick’s bright red suit.

I remember the peppermint scent from a room full of kids with candy canes upstairs in the firehouse, sticky fingers, the, yes, comforting waft of gas from the fire trucks that protected us. Then there was the doubt peppered thrill of believing in the Saint Nick miracle. Oh, and the nagging obsession over whether or not that beard was real.

If I told my parents I didn’t believe, as if it was my job to unmask a major fraud, they’d quell the dream slayer notion with “Oh, honey, it was one of Santa’s helpers.” I think one year, or a few, fireman Bill Overman was a “helper.” To this day, every time I saw the guy ’til his death, I’d have a Santa’s helper flashback. That and his hallucinogenic-like clown role on the firetruck ride at the fair. The freaky lollipop fairy. Lollipops and candy canes. Candy canes and lollipops.

Specifics aside, there was that undeniable growing attachment to the tradition and the town that was emblazoned in my sometimes weary  holiday heart  — clown and Santa’s helper PTSD moments and all.

I can still see a montage of that scene that evoked that happy little Fair Haven kid memory cache. There I was, sister and parents beside me, standing there in my green coat and goofy looking knit stocking hat with that big tassel of yarn dangling at the end.

I remember rehearsing what I’d ask for, my cash-strapped parents trying to urge me to keep the want modest, because “other kids needed Santa’s help more.” We were told we had all we needed in 1964 — the year we moved to Fair Haven. My parents were right. No other kids were quite so lucky.

Then there was the pose clutching the half-eaten candy cane and all the stress of checking out that stinking beard while making sure I got my word in on the most wanted present. All I really wanted was “a doll with a wind,” as I called it.

I got it, after Santa’s elves finally “made enough of them,” and I loved it. The thing didn’t do too much, but I was pretty obsessed with the power of Claus through which it arrived under my tree.

Then there was the part at the firehouse event where we got to go downstairs into the emptied fire truck bays and pick out a pre-Christmas present.

I remember getting one of those potholder making kits. Rest assured, every family member got a really ugly pot holder from that thing. I took pot holder making seriously. I let the pot holder making begin and it never ended until the plastic loom finally snapped from obsessed crafty kid fatigue.

I think that, the not-so-thrilling, but beloved, doll, the eventual Easy Bake Oven and a good ol’ cardboard kitchen were my favorites.

Tradition. It really didn’t take much to make much.

Now, off I go to whip up a batch of Christmas cookies in that Easy Bake Oven. Hmmm … Where to put the oven? The kitchen fell apart in 1970.

Got pot holders?

John Caroli
BCS Wealth Management

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