Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Old Town Temecula's Santa Tradition Unites Old Friends

Thanksgiving was an eight-day work week and I've logged in 112 hours since November 23 - making snowflakes, painting grapes, setting up events and just working the Christmas activities.  The life of an event producer as Bing Crosby points out in “Holiday Inn” means you work an extra day, night, weekend. The trade off is downtime when everyone else works.

I love what I do. I was raised in Anaheim, California, a few blocks from Disneyland with an artist for a mother and an adman/promoter for a father. I love old Hollywood musicals and the formulaic "Let's put on a show," plots. Somehow, though, I have always identified with Doris Walker of "Miracle on 34th Street" more than Judy Garland. I like to be behind the scenes making it happen.

This year I did something I do rarely, I became a part of the show by riding on the Temecula Carriages Trolley through Old Town Temecula as it escorted a 50 person choir and Santa to his cabin at Pennypickle’s Workshop. I’m always amazed when a crowd looks larger than anticipated. Last year we had rain and had half our normal crowd. This year the crowd tripled. They packed Main Street east of Old Town Front, the west a few hundred feet. The new location afforded more spectators and viewing of the procession. Some spectators cheered at Town Square Park as the procession made the circle.  It warmed my heart.

For 15 years we have brought Santa to Old Town Temecula. About 12 years ago we started the procession to his “workshop."  Eight years ago a local business owner built Santa’s first house. It was a gingerbread house in design. It unfortunately warped after the second year, then leaked. 

We were BLESSED five years ago the Tahquitz Boy Scouts offered to build a new home. They had helped us take pictures when we were in a tent that required redecorating each week. Repainted the “gingerbread house twice” and then when the call came for a MODULAR and durable home,  two Eagle Scouts came forth. One – an adult – BRUIN PAINTING – OWNER – donated the design and build of the house. Tommy Byrnes, Eagle Scout from Canyon Lake, coordinated the   painting, decorating and assembly effort, including painting the snowmen on the workshop.

This year – we moved to new FLAT quarters with a REAL WOOD FLOOR at Pennypickle’s Workshop/Temecula Children’s Museum.  They repainted and re-purposed the building making this Penny
pickle's  cabin that hosts Santa each year.  I say all this because this is how the community works best – everyone working for the best possible outcome. Santa always brings out the best in all of us. 

This year there was a special request. One of the adult women who helped with the Tommy Byrnes house was fighting Breast Cancer for the fourth time as we pained snowmen. She requested a pink ribbon or snowflake.  I painted a pink snowflake and tied a pink ribbon to it. She and her family, grandchildren and children, came to see Santa and the house that night.

Which brings me to the reason for all of this – I am thankful. I am blessed with a wide range of friends with diverse talents, interests and lifestyles. They always want to help. Walking from Pennypickle’s to the Stampede where Santa and his reindeer landed at 5:45 p.m. Friday, I ran into many of these friends. 

One friend had her grandchildren waiting for the Giant Elf’s balloon art.  Another friend, (one I have known since I was 16), has the best decorated business in town this year. If you agree – head to the  Temeculachilled.com website and vote. It’s the house that created snow on their fence by combining icicle lights, hand cutting white shelving material into icicles and ordering WHITE garland from the east coast.  A walk down Main Street and you will know who I mean.

Why should Santa Arrive in a horse drawn carriage, ride through OLD TOWN TEMECULA on Thanksgiving Weekend, sit for hours greeting the children and their parents?  It is a 1 5-old tradition.  This tradition provides free, easy access to Santa at the end of Black Friday in a small town homey atmosphere where all is touchable, hug able and emotionally appealing.  Then line is also significantly shorter than other places in town.

Greeting the residents, friends and neighbors this night is often the only time during the year that I see lifetime friends. Boy Scouts raise funds to go to camp while helping people visit Santa.

During the procession  I ran into a young woman I have seen occasionally at my events for the past 10 years.

“I’ve known Melody since I was 11,” she told her kids. They were sitting on a blanket in line, waiting to see Santa. I can’t believe I have known her that long. She asked how I was doing and I was in a hurry from one destination to the next.  “Okay, weird year.”

She confided that she had a rough year. She had lost her 12-year-old daughter a few months to cancer.  Mist filled both of our eyes. I couldn't believe the hardship this “kid” has seen and yet there she was, with her entire family – watching Santa arrive in Old Town. A small moment of normalcy for her and her year of trauma was a one-second Epiphany for me. 

We all live within our own storyboards. Sometimes we are so immersed at surviving a storm, enduring a hardship or just “getting by” that we don’t see the world around us. But this one night, one 15-minute window unites old friends, creates new friends, inspires young, and revitalizes generations within one family. It’s magical.   

I read a post of one woman who wiped mist from her eyes as she saw the carriages proceed down Main Street. Holding her newborn and watching from the sidewalk, she saw her husband drive the of y team that pulled a trolley full young carolers. She normally drives Santa in the carriage and this year delighted in the crowd as they cheered the procession.

Old Town Temecula is the heart and soul of this community. Glowing snowflakes on light posts and in the street, a musical Christmas tree in Town Square, Snowbell Rockin’ Nights with snow fall, lights and music synchronized, and now the Ice Rink – it is all a gift to the community and a treasure for the season.