Bob Mueller’s doing all he can to find out deep secrets from Fifth to Pennsylvania avenues. Here in Woodstock, we want to know how Santa’s planning to arrive on the Village Green Christmas Eve.
Every year’s the same. Whoever gets the assignment starts early, working the edges of those who might know on the town’s Christmas Eve Committee, or among the volunteers who work with the committee to get together all that’s needed to put together a thousand plus stockings, plus home delivery meals and presents. We pop sly questions to all who work in the town offices at the Comeau property alongside the committee’s longstanding secretary Lynn Sehwerert: Hey, how’s he arriving this year? You heard anything? Is it true they’re repeating the VW bus trick from a few years back? Is there a camel involved, or maybe an elephant? Some have even been known to try employees at Bank of America, where the private funds that pay for the $10,000 to $15,000 annual event get stashed, especially now that the bank’s closing its Bradley Meadows branch. After all, don’t they teach journalists to always follow the money?
But the answer’s always the same: A stony silence. Maybe a dry, somewhat forced laugh. A request that I wait and speak to Sehwerert.
I recall stumbling upon the secret in a local workshop several years back. A bunch of aging men with years of experience in the music business, engineering cool records and even cooler stadium tours, were standing around a giant contraption under tarps, hands in their back pockets. One noticed my awestruck look and immediately narrowed his gaze and motioned one finger across his throat. Then they all approached as one to tell me I’d be as good as dead should word leak about what I’d seen.
Of course, word never did leak that year that Santa arrived by plane down Tinker Street. But that was largely because I couldn’t quite make sense of what I had seen until Christmas Eve itself.
The same has gone for trying to figure out the music each year. Try as I and the rest of our staff have year in and year out, we’ve never been able to stumble into rehearsals for the crack bands that appear rocking out holiday carols before and during Santa’s big arrival. Unless those awkward silences outside seemingly loud, darkened barns mean something…
“We can’t block off the road until the bus comes,” Sehwerert told one of our reporters a few years back, when the biggest battle over Christmas locally was whether Santa’s arrival had been going on nearly 90 years, as nonagenarian Jean Gaede has suggested, or a mere 70 plus. She always suggests arriving in the center of Woodstock by 4:15 p.m. to get a good vantage point and listen to the non-rocking carolers. (The bus comes through around 5 p.m….Santa somewhere around 5:30 p.m.)
Another year she explained that only one or two people end up knowing the truth about Santa’s arrival, unless a crew like I saw in the woods is called for. She mentioned back then, how everything has to be wrapped up so the Dutch Reformed Church can hold its Christmas Eve Mass at 7 p.m. The biggest challenge for the committee, Sehwerert told our reporter, is “trying to pull it all together to make it all happen in an hour. It starts early in October, when a mailing goes out for donations — the event is totally funded by donations. After that, we have to put together lists for people to get the contents for the stockings and the cheer and food baskets. We get phone calls suggesting that someone might need cheering up or has had some economic downturn and might need a food basket.”
Of course, Gaede was remembering back when Santa came to the old and long-gone Bearsville Store in the decades long before Albert Grossman and rock and roll came to town and the crowds for the jolly man’s arrival (Mr. Claus’, that is) were in the dozens and not thousands. Although it seems the spirit of Christmas in Woodstock’s never changed.
As Dakota Lane put it in these pages a few years back remembering a lifetime of Santa arrivals, many have their chosen spots each December 24. There they greet fellow Woodstockers, past and present (and sometimes even future) while warming themselves with hot cocoa, cider, and bear-hug hellos. There’s always a moment when everyone thinks things are taking too long, that something’s run awry. But then he arrives, followed by those long, snaking lines of children waiting to get their free stockings handed out by elves on the Village Green.
“C’mon, this is a secret,” replied town supervisor Bill McKenna, when we reached him this week. “All I can say is that it’s going to be a wonderful evening and everybody should come early.”
We paused and then tried one last tact. Was it true that, should the town okay a pending resolution to name Woodstock a Sanctuary City, that the jolly one might end up making this his new North Pole?
“How do you know he’s not living here already,” McKenna answered, fast.
Tax-deductible contributions are always welcome and can be made to the Christmas Eve Committee, care of Bank of America, 81 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock, NY 12498, or care of the Town Clerk’s office, 47 Comeau Drive, Woodstock, NY 12498.