Santa Claus does not wait until the night of Christmas Eve to visit the residents of McLean. In fact, in the month leading up to Christmas, he can be seen in various local neighborhoods almost every single day.
"We started this project back in 1992, but this is a transient area, so a lot of people come into the community and don't know that we do this," said Michael Paris, shift leader and quarter master with the McLean Volunteer Fire Department. "We start right after Thanksgiving and go every night we can, and every weekend day that we can, weather permitting."
With the help of the members of the McLean Volunteer Fire Department, Santa has been making daily visits to local communities for the past 14 years.
Perched on the top of a McLean Volunteer Fire Department engine, Santa travels from neighborhood to neighborhood, emitting hearty "ho, ho, ho's" and handing out candy canes to children. Sometimes, he even takes the time to stop, mingle and pose for pictures.
"We'll pull up in front of a house or cul-de-sac, and the kids will come running out and give Santa a hug or a high-five," said Gwynneth VanLaven, McLean Volunteer Fire Department member and photographer. "It is the just the most amazing feeling to ride in the truck and see the looks on their faces when they hear you coming with Santa."
Members of the McLean Volunteer Fire Department take turns playing the role of Santa Claus.
"In addition, many in our department contribute to our mission to spread holiday cheer, through participation in the tree decorating, Reindog Parade and other holiday events," said VanLaven. "In other words, the 'Happy Holidays' really does come from the whole of the McLean Volunteer Fire Department."
When Santa arrived at the townhouse community of Hallcrest Heights last Saturday, Dec. 9 at 1 p.m., it seemed to be winter's version of the arrival of the ice cream truck on a hot summer day. As the red McLean fire engine ambled slowly through the neighborhood, it let off festive honks and bleeps to alert residents of Santa's arrival. However, many children and their families had already gathered by a decorated Christmas tree in the community's central green, and were waiting in excited anticipation. They were fortunate enough to be graced with a longer visit, as Santa dismounted his engine and posed for photographs, while handing out candy canes and listening to Christmas wish lists.
This McLean tradition began after residents saw Santa and his fire truck make an appearance in a Pimmit Hills neighborhood in 1992.
"People kept asking me, 'when are you going to do my street?'" said Paris. "So pretty soon, it just grew and grew."
Today the fire department does its best to make it to every McLean neighborhood, but Paris said the growing size of the community makes it "almost impossible" to visit all of them.
"But we're doing pretty good this year," said Paris .