Nothing stops Santa and Mrs. Claus from making the rounds through Tustin year after year.
With a Tustin police vehicle leading the way to announce Santa’s imminent arrival, Santa takes the reins, guiding his reindeer through every neighborhood in town over 10 nights.
The Tustin Police Department has organized Santa’s Sleigh for more than 20 years; however, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Santa to change his tactics a bit for the past two holiday seasons.
The Jolly Old Elf can no longer invite youngsters to board the sleigh as in past years. Instead, he rides past, waving and ‘ho-ho-ho’-ing with Christmas music playing through the loudspeakers. Residents along the sidewalk waiting for Santa’s arrival capture his grand appearance with cell phone cameras.
Michelle Roberts and her children have been greeting Santa on their street for six years. When her six-year-old son Owen heard Santa was on his way, he was doing a dance, Roberts said.
“I tell people at work about Santa’s Sleigh and they say, ‘our city doesn’t do that,’” Roberts said. “I think it makes it feel like a smaller community … a small town feel.”
Kathryn and Drew Griesel and their two-year-old son Kyle have also become regulars on Santa’s route.
“I think that it is awesome that the police are doing this,” Drew Griesel said. “They don’t get to do the fun stuff that the community sees all the time.”
Lourdes Morales and her 9-year-old son were waiting in front of their home for Santa for the second year in a row. Their nine-month-old son Leandro was seeing Santa for the first time.
“I used to live in L.A. County,” Morales said. “When we moved here and having kids, I was just so thrilled because this is a treat. A lot of people don’t have the means to go see Santa. This is just wonderful because COVID has really kept families at home. Not everyone is willing to go out.”
The tradition began nearly 25 years ago when Master Reserve Officer George Vallevieni was asked by a supervisor to develop an outreach program for the city for the holidays.
Vallevieni, who was a skilled carpenter, purchased an old flat-bed trailer for $150 and crafted a wooden sleigh, white picket fence, and seven reindeer. He added garland and Christmas lights. Santa and his elves then climb on board and make the rounds.
Master Reserve Officer Dana Harper has been organizing Santa’s Sleigh for the past four years, after Vallevieni retired. The routes were changed this year and Santa is now visiting every neighborhood in 10 nights, down from 15, Harper said. He’s hoping Santa can get back to stopping and visiting with children by next year.
“I’m really hopeful that next year we are back to the normal routes and a normal schedule and everybody gets to get on the sleigh because those are really good pictures,” Harper said. “For a lot of people in their communities, this is their Christmas picture.”