With reindeer leading pulling the sleigh, Santa and Mrs. Claus and their elves have been spreading holiday cheer and giving out goodies through the city of Tustin for nearly 25 years.
The sleigh typically makes multiple stops so Santa and his elves can visit with kids, pose for photos and dole out candy canes as Santa covers every square mile of the city over 15 nights. The Tustin Police Department has organized the excursion since its inception.
While the coronavirus pandemic forced Santa to change tactics this holiday season, Old Saint Nick still made the rounds through the city.
Rather than stopping and visiting with kids, Santa and Mrs. Claus cruised slowly through every neighborhood, waving to residents and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
The sleigh stayed at least 15 feet away from onlookers.
“There is still a lot of excitement,” said Tustin field services worker Leo Stiles, who played the role of Santa. “There is a lot of Christmas spirit. Everyone wants to see Santa.”
Holiday music blared from the sleigh, letting neighbors know that Santa would be there imminently.
Families stood in front of their homes, waving at the Jolly Old Elf, just as they do every year.
“We’re COVID-19 compliant this year,” said TPD Officer Bonne Breeze, who was Mrs. Clause. “Even though we don’t stop, people are still able to get out of the house. People I think are a little more excited about it this year because they are so cooped up so. So to come out and actually see Santa here … It is a good feeling.”
The tradition was started by now-retired TPD Master Reserve Officer George Vallevieni, who had been a patrol officer when he was asked by a supervisor to develop an outreach program for the city.
A skilled craftsman, Vallevieni purchased an old flat-bed trailer for $150 and fashioned a wooden sleigh, white picket fence, and seven reindeer. He added garland and Christmas lights.
Early on, Santa and his team made the rounds over four nights.
Santa’s trips through neighborhoods was then increased to 10 nights and then finally to 15 nights.
Santa’s sleigh now covers roughly 90 percent of the of the 11-square-mile city and greets about 10,000 kids throughout every holiday season.
The coronavirus pandemic nearly prompted the department to cancel Santa’s sleigh this year, said Master Reserve Officer Dana Harper, who organizes the event.
“We did feel like we could do it safely,” said Harper, who also drives the truck that tows the sleigh. “It was a big decision.”
Judging from the hundreds of residents who stood along the curb, waving to Santa as he drove by, the residents were thankful that Santa’s sleigh safely made the rounds, despite the pandemic.
“We love it,” resident Samantha Wilson said. “We appreciate it so much. Our cops care.”