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“A monkey? What in the world do you want with a real monkey?”
The look of astonishment on Santa’s face and his tone of voice was comparable to when the Jolly Old Elf told “Ralphie” in the movie The Christmas Story that he couldn’t have a Red Ryder BB gun because he’d shoot his eye out.
With Christmas just around the corner, Santa’s many “helpers” are kept busy being the main attraction at many such events as two that were staged in Shelbyville on Saturday, the pancake breakfast with Santa at Centenary United Methodist Church, hosted by the Shelbyville Rotary Club, and lunch with Santa at the Shelby County Community Theatre. We hope Santa didn’t overeat.
Both events were filled will all the ingredients for a festive Christmas gathering, delicious holiday treats, Christmas carols, large groups of family and friends – and most of all – the Old St. Nicholas himself.
The long lines of children waiting to talk to Santa, with the magic of Christmas reflected in their eyes, is proof, that, yes, Virginia, Santa is alive and well in Shelby County.
“I’ve been doing this for many years, and that’s what I enjoy most, to see their eyes light up when they see me,” said Joe Piccini, a member of the Shelbyville Rotary Club who was kept busy most of the morning on Saturday in the basement of the church, where he had set up his Santa’s chair next to a large Christmas tree.
The reception he gets has not changed over the years, he says. Kids are still as eager as they ever were to scramble up onto his lap to tell him what they want for Christmas.
But their requests are certainly not what they used to be, he said.
And he’s probably not going to be checking his list twice on his smartphone, although he might tie it to Rudolph’s neck so the GPS can kick in if his red nose gives out.
“I still get a few who want Barbies and toy trucks and skateboards and things like that, but most of them now want iPods and things that I have never even heard of,” he said. “I used to ask them, ‘What is that?’ but now I just tell them I leave that high-tech stuff to my elves.”
Piccini said the kids are always asking how Mrs. Claus and the elves are doing, and a great many of them tell him they want to go outside and pet Rudolph.
“I have to tell them that Rudolph is tied up, so they can’t see him,” he said.
As for Mrs. Claus (Piccini’s wife) she actually was there, incognito.
When asked how she was doing, she replied, with a glint of mischief in her eyes, “Well, I’m just fine, just working hard to help Santa out with little things, like keeping up with his keys and his cell phone and things like that.”
Two little girls, Devonny Hernandez and Aaliyah Wilson, delighted “Santa” by doing a song-and-dance routine for him after presenting him with a cookie.
He gave them a big hug after they sang him a song they called “Boogie Woogie Reindeer,” a 5-year-old’s version of a cheerleader’s routine.
“And thank you very much for the cookie,” he told them.
“We brought carrots for Rudolph, too, but he’s not here,” Wilson told him, waving goodbye.
“I do like cookies, but I wish just once somebody’d bring me a pizza,” he said.
Piccini said he doesn’t get many kids who are reluctant to approach him but said a few of the smaller ones are afraid of his beard, a sentiment echoed by Gary Steinhilber, who played Santa at the community theater on Saturday.
“Some of them aren’t too sure about it,” he said, grinning as he gestured to his beard, which was real.
One toddler teared up as his mother sat him on Santa’s lap, but he bravely held back his tears as he suffered through having his photograph snapped. But once safely back in his mother’s arms, that same toddler waved at Santa with a big smile.
Steinhilber said he doesn’t place too much on asking kids what they want for Christmas and concentrates instead on just chatting with them.
“Half of the stuff they tell me they want, I don’t even know what they’ve talking about,” he said. “So I just ask them if they’ve been good and tell them to make a list out and give to their parents to mail to me.”