Santa in the Modern Age: Do reindeer really still do it all? What about those digital trackers, all those books depicting the red-suited man with a beard with moose, or transporting himself Star Trek-style? Or all the ways that he has used to get to Woodstock, as has happened traditionally in the “world’s most famous village” each Christmas Eve?
Granted, the big Ulster County celebration of Mr. Claus takes place on the earlier side, leaving plenty of room for his gift-giving self to get back home and work out his own methodologies for delivery through the long global night ahead. People tend to start gathering around sunset, finding parking where they can and trying to get the kids to the Village Green, where stuffed stockings will be made available for everyone after the jolly fellow’s arrival and expected go-ahead.
Santa Claus arrives around 5:30 p.m., always by surprise means. There’s love music, a crushing crowd, the twinkling of holiday lights all around the village center and enough warm (and warming) beverages on hand to keep people cogent (as well as able to make it back home). How does he arrive? You name it: by giant dove, hot-air balloon, flying Volkswagen bug, live elephant, hang glider, cannon, jet pack, spaceship, crane.
There’s a communal sense of all-ages joy to the event, lasting an hour or two, that belies specificity of religion in exchange for a surplus of shared belief in the fun aspects of the season. There’s a lot of anticipation, shivering and then a mass countdown.
Those who don’t like the cold (or crowds) may find it not their thing. But for anyone with a kid (or inner child) who relishes the crazy sentimental side of this time of year, stretching back through holiday music and movies, indoor trees and gaudy light displays and the ancient lore of Saturnalia and Calends – where the world got turned upside-down for the leftover days at the end of each year – the Woodstock Santa Arrival is a must. Hey, it has been drawing crowds and this community together for over 70 years now.
If you know the town, its roads and its parking lots, get there early – and using a bit of subterfuge. If not, follow the crowds, and dress warmly in preparation for a bit of walking. It’s all a real blast, and truly the spirit of the holidays, Woodstock-style.