The Tustin community is blessed with Santa Claus throughout December, thanks to the Tustin Police Department, officers, volunteers, and a nearly 40-foot-long sleigh.
In actuality, the sleigh is a highly modified, festive trailer replete with Christmas lights, garland, benches, seven flying reindeer and another sleigh for the Big Guy himself to sit in.
Through Christmas Eve, Santa and his posse are visited Tustin neighborhoods, reaching thousands of children for photos, and handing out candy canes along the way.
The department tradition was started more than 20 years ago by Master Reserve Officer George Vallevieni. The former patrol and motor officer retired last year after 35 years on the force. He was the craftsman who made the sleigh and the truck driver who hauled it around.
This year, the tradition is aided by the Tustin Community Foundation, the Tustin Police Foundation, and Alexander’s Mobility Services.
On Monday night, the driving duties went to Master Reserve Officer Dana Harper, who estimated that more than 20,000 children have visited with Tustin’s Santa over the decades. They’ve even seen multiple generations approach the sled, with parents who visited as children bringing their own children to continue the tradition.
Stepping into the big shoes Monday was Michael Bahr, who’s been in the role for five years.
“I work for the Big Guy,” said Bahr, a Tustin resident. “I have his blessing to represent him in a good fashion.”
On that night, the sleigh started at City Hall and went downtown, with Santa on a loudspeaker proclaiming Merry Christmas to motors and pedestrians. He urged them to honk their horns if they believe in Santa Claus. Many did.
He praised the county bus — “O.C. bus rules!” — and wished a happy holiday to the Original Taco Factory at the corner of Newport and Walnut avenues. He complimented their tacos over the loudspeaker before the sleigh made its first stop along Scherer Place.
“I’m coming to see you!” Santa announced, with police sirens blaring in the background.
Before Santa arrived, a police van raced ahead to announce his visit to the community so that residents could come outside in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. The children lit up with joy, as did their parents, who captured the moment on their phones.
“Parents, if you don’t know how to use your camera, ask your children! They’ll know how,” Santa told the crowd.
Magaly Solano, 8, and Yahel Monroy, 4, were among those who went into the sleigh to see Santa.
“I told Santa to give me a very, very big robot,” Monroy proclaimed, while eating his candy cane.
Ximena Martinez, 6, asked Santa for two L.O.L. Surprise! dolls, a highly collectible item this season.
Throughout the night, Harper, when not driving the truck, stood behind the crowd and shone his flashlight on Santa so guests would have better light for pictures. When it was time for the group to head to the next to stop, Santa announced, “As we say in the North Pole: Ho, ho, ho, and away we go!”
Along Carfax Drive, Laticia Gallardo said she felt overjoyed to see Tustin police continue the Santa tradition for the community. She has witnessed Santa’s arrival the last six years.
“I want to cry,” she said. “This is beautiful!”
Gallardo mentioned how much it means to the kids to have the spirited North Pole visitor. But it’s not all about the kids.
“Santa Claus?” Gallardo added. “He means a lot to me too.”