I grew up primarily in West Hempstead, New York. Shortly after we moved in, in 1960, I caught the Mumps. As the room that my brother and I shared was on the third floor was too far for Mom to continually check on, I was relegated to her bed during the day. It was just before Christmas, and I was upset because not only was I sick, but I had not been able to visit Santa Claus.

Mom was doing the things that people do after moving into a new older home. From what I’ve been told, she was on a ladder painting when the phone rang. Muttering something about the salesman who kept interrupting her, she climbed off the ladder and answered the phone. A man on the other end asked if he had reached the right number, and then told her that he understood she had a sick child at home. He asked if we would like a visit from Santa Claus.

On Christmas Eve, we heard sirens and a truck with lights flashing pulled up to the front of the house, and Santa climbed out. As my younger brother and sister watched with their jaws hanging open, he came into the house, up the stairs to Mom’s room, and spent a few minutes with me.

As we learned, The volunteer fire department in West Hempstead had a tradition of driving Santa around the town every Christmas Eve, with a procession of cars and honking horns following the truck and stopping at homes like ours along the way. In later years, we would sometimes join the procession, too. One particular year, I recall being the first or second car behind the fire engine and waving emergency flares that we held out the window (probably not considered safe today!) of our 1965 Volkswagon convertible. Other years we would run out to the corner as soon as we heard the sirens (we were the corner house on a dead end road) and wave whenever the Santa motorcade drove by.

Many years later, I married and moved to Westchester. On Christmas Day, we did whatever visits we could work out but Christmas Eve was reserved. As long as my parents lived in that house, I felt an obligation to be back in West Hempstead on Christmas Eve to wave to Santa when he passed by. It was only when my parents sold the house and moved to Connecticut that I stopped, though I still think about it every Christmas Eve and my own kids have probably gotten tired of hearing about it. I also wonder whether they knew how important this tradition was to some of those kids in the town or even whether it’s still done.

One Response to “My Christmas Story”

  1. Janet Bruland says:

    I am in West Hempstead for Christmas Vacation and at this very moment Tthe West Hempstead Fire Dept is driving through town, up and down each and every block, trucks and cars illuminated, sirens wailing, and yes, with Santa in tow! The tradition continues! My son is filming it with his new cell phone/camera and if you’d like I will try to send it to you. Let me know. Seasons Greetings…Janet from Grant Ave.