BARNEGAT – It’s a good thing Santa and Mrs. Claus have a place to lay their weary heads when they’re coming to town.
From all accounts, the big guy had his elves working hard as he whisked through the skies to descend on his vacation home in the historic section of downtown Barnegat. News of his arrival traveled fast among those who signed up for a visit and some good old fashioned community fun.
Santa said after he received a letter from the Barnegat Township Elementary School PTA, he quickly reviewed his “Naughty and Nice” list and decided the personal visit was in order.
“Years ago, the Dunfee School PTA used to do a Santa night with free pictures, as did a couple of the other schools,” shared Colleen Angus, Vice President of the Elementary School PTA. “Because of COVID, we weren’t able to offer it and this year, we decided to do more than just the pictures.”
Nearly 1,700 people signed up for the free three-day event that included assistance from what locals refer to as the folks west of the Parkway.
Pheasant Run was one of the first over-55 communities built in Barnegat, and also one of the smallest. Residents there donned baking aprons and whipped together 300 cupcakes.
The Mirage Women’s Club and residents donated forty dozen cookies for distribution at the event. Dunkin’ Donuts supplied gallons and gallons of hot chocolate to add to the sense of warmth and holiday spirit at the event held at the Donahue School.
Volunteers pitched in to man all different aspects of the holiday spectacular from decorations to elf service to clean up duties. National Honor Society students from both Brackman Middle School and Barnegat High School dedicated their time as Santa’s helpers, as did several parents and community members.
Two young pups, sisters of one of the district’s therapy dogs, sat still and took in the scene. Outfitted in red bows, the white labs glistened and seemed awfully cozy with a familiar looking Grinch.
Imagination was in full force with even the district’s Bengal mascot magically encased in a snow globe. PTA member elves guided guests to visit with Santa, and even set up a picture-perfect arch for a set of separate memory photos.
Children and adults alike had the opportunity to pick out pictures and wooden ornaments and color them. Those looking for small gifts also had the chance to do some last-minute shopping at the event.
According to Angus, children with special needs had Santa to themselves during the first hour. The quiet had a more calming effect than the commotion that was soon to follow.
While Santa gets top billing on all of his appearances, he says that Mrs. Claus should really get credit as an unsung hero. A Barnegat mom agreed.
“I remember the first time we took my son to see Santa,” said Christine Chapais. “He was so afraid that he wouldn’t go near him. Mrs. Claus saw what was happening and came to our table to talk to Tommy. She comforted him, which prompted Tommy to go sit on Santa’s lap. Tommy’s eight now and calls Santa his friend.”
Over the years, Santa’s met with several children both locally and afar and said he’s treasured each and every visit. In an exclusive interview, Santa shared two special things that happened when he listened to the children from Barnegat earlier in the week.
While many kids think Santa’s there to fulfill their gift list, some come with presents of their own. Santa received one that he’s planning to frame for his Santa room.
Eight-year-old Dustin Therien decided to draw Santa, his house, and his reindeer in a portrait that Santa said both amazed him and exemplified the reason the Claus couple does what they do.
“Dustin said that Santa and Mrs. Claus work so hard that he just wanted to give them a present,” said his mom, Kristen. “Dustin has a very kind heart.”
Dustin was diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumor at just five years old.
The visit to see Santa this year was just one of the good things that happened to Dustin and his family, reported his mom. That same day, three separate doctors confirmed Dustin’s cancer remained in remission and seemed likely to stay that way.
Santa was touched by the small boy who thought of him – and others who understood the real reason for the season of giving.
“Towards the end of the night, I was talking to a little girl who was about 9 or 10,” Santa added. “I asked her what she wanted for Christmas.”
“She turned to me and said, ‘Santa, you know it’s not about the presents. It’s about the love,’” he said. “You know, that’s what I really needed at that point – after a long day.”