Anyone acquainted with Yuletide traditions is aware that the weeks leading up to Christmas are the busiest time of year for Santa Claus.
But as busy as he is preparing for his iconic Christmas Eve delivery run, Father Christmas takes time away from supervising his North Pole workshop to bring holiday smiles to the faces of Pekinites. Thanks to a true community effort, he has a Santa House in front of the Tazewell County Courthouse where he can lay his head after a long day of hearing local Christmas wishes.
“We started the Santa House around the turn of the (20th) century,” said Santa House volunteer Kay Lock. “Every year, we put packages together for the kids to come in and get their pictures taken with Santa Claus or drop off their letters to him.”
Visits from Father Christmas himself notwithstanding, the Santa House would not be possible without a great deal of community support, Lock added. McDonald’s provides coupons to augment the gift bags containing toys brought directly from the North Pole. Other contributors include the Tazewell Area Ceremonial Team, the Pekin Police and Fire Departments, various local businesses and private donors. Pekin Firefighters Local 524 renovated the house last year. Because the residence was broken into on several occasions over the years, the neighboring antique store Treasures & More has kept a security camera trained on the house since 2010 to discourage local Grinches.
“Every kid needs Christmas,” said Lock. “We have a lot of parents who don’t have jobs, so some of the kids might not have a Christmas. There are parents who are service members and are overseas during Christmas time. The Santa House brings the community together, because we couldn’t give kids a Christmas they might otherwise not have without a lot of community assistance.”
The Santa House also provides volunteers and donors with that unique emotional glow associated with being able to bring Yuletide merriment through their effort. Ken Staley, who is experiencing his first Christmas as a Santa House volunteer and North Pole representative, has in the past participated in the Salvation Army’s Christmas Campaign. As gratifying as he found that activity, he believes that being able to help bring Kris Kringle to Pekin has brought him a special sort of fulfillment.
“There’s no way I could tell you how great I feel about being part of this,” he said. “It’s one of the best things I could do in my life. I love making kids happy.”
As one would expect from someone with a notably easy, booming laugh, Santa Claus appreciates the humor often associated with hearing and filling Christmas wishes, said Lock. He shared a favorite anecdote with Lock.
“One year, a kid came with a long, written list,” Lock recalled. “Santa said ‘I see you brought a list so you wouldn’t forget anything.’ The boy said, ‘No, Santa. I brought the list so you wouldn’t forget.”
The Santa House opened Dec. 1 this year and will remain open through Sunday. Because of his pressing duties and demanding work schedule, Santa Claus is only available in his Pekin residence Friday through Sunday. Hours of operation are from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday.