Abundant holiday cheer managed to arrive in Winters this year: Santa Claus, the legendary giver of gifts, visited town for four nights early this month, spreading joy atop a tractor-driven sleigh.
Stephanie Atherton, who drove the tractor, said the idea for Santa’s visit first came about in October, during walnut harvest. Kathy Cowan was helping with Atherton’s harvest, and Atherton asked whether it was decided there would be no tractor parade this year. Cowan responded that, yup, the tractor parade was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Both of them looked at each other and decided then that they needed to do something.
October and most of November passed, and the two hatched a plan. They pulled out Santa’s sleigh, built for the tractor parade last year by Frank Neal, out of Atherton’s barn, and moved it to Cowan’s house. While keeping the plan under wraps, they drove around town and mapped out a route that would hit nearly every street in Winters over four nights. The route was approved by Winters police Chief John Miller, and a group of Santa’s Elves — Kathy Cowan, Atherton, Dan Mickel, Dave Horner, Christine Berry, and Mayor Wade Cowan — got to work decorating Santa’s sleigh. Then the group contacted the white-bearded, red-suited man at the top, and, according to Atherton, “Santa said he would be more than happy to come visit Winters over those four nights.”
With everything ready to go, Atherton, dressed in full elf attire, drove the tractor pulling Santa’s sleigh. Miller escorted the two in his patrol car, red and blue flashers blazing, siren occasionally wailing, classic Christmas music blaring. The mayor controlled the music — Holly Jolly Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Let it Snow, among other tunes — and directed the chief through the pre-planned route. Kathy tailed behind Santa’s sleigh in her car to make sure nobody ran out into the street.
“We tried to hit every single street so that everybody could experience Santa,” Atherton said “With Chief Miller hitting his siren and the music being played, people would come to their doors and just be so surprised and so happy. It brought us a tremendous amount of joy.”
Atherton said the experience of driving Santa around town was special and humbling. Little kids would jump up and down as the tractor passed by, she said, and would wave their arms and flap their hands.
“It was emotional. It really was,” Wade said. “Chief made a comment, he said: ‘kids appear to have springs in their feet when they see us coming, they just jump up and down like they’re on a pogo stick.’”
Kathy said the group passed by almost all the Christmas decorations in town. When they passed by the newer homes in Winters, she yelled out “This is how we roll.”
“This year’s been tough,” Atherton said. “And, you know, it was emotionally gratifying to be able to do this for the kids. And actually not just the kids, but for everybody.”