Here Comes Santa Claus

’Tis the season for spreading joy and cheer with traditions, big and small, sweet and exciting. Here’s how seven local families prepare for a visit from Jolly Old St. Nick.

Santa with his reindeer

You’ve seen the evidence on Facebook and Pinterest alike. No sooner than the last of the leftover Thanksgiving turkey is polished off, sprightly elves begin popping up in homes all over the Bay area, ready to keep watchful eyes on little ones until the Big Guy himself makes his journey to Lower Alabama. (Never mind that those elves often make more mischief than the children they’re charged with coercing into obedience. But that’s another story for another day.) 

It’s come to our attention that when Santa’s little helpers make reports to the North Pole about each child’s behavior, they also include a special rundown of how, exactly, each family hopes to celebrate on December 25. Do they prefer that Santa wrap their gifts or not? Where should he leave them? What snacks should he and the reindeer expect? As if he’s not busy enough, not only does Kris Kringle check his naughty and nice roll — twice — apparently, he also refers to his “Who leaves bourbon with the cookies?” list on more than one occasion. 

Parents, kick back, grab your own festive hot toddy  and let’s take a peek into some of the ways that Santa has — and continues to — spread wonder and laughter in a few local families’ homes. And if you’re so inclined to add another tradition to your family’s mix, whisper one or two of these ideas to your own elf and maybe, just maybe, Santa will oblige. Here’s hoping the McKinnon boys get an extra toy or two for their mom being so kind as to leave St. Nick a well-deserved nightcap.

Does Santa wrap the presents at your house? Where does he leave them?

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When my husband and I started having kids, we borrowed from both our families’ traditions. Santa left my presents out, but at his house, he wrapped them in specific paper for each child. So now Santa leaves a few gifts out and then wraps the rest. Each child has their own paper from Santa. In an effort to go green, we leave a basket of tape, tags, scissors and extra paper to share with the elves if they need to wrap at the house, and they always leave their extra paper to share, too.

– Anna Pavao, Daphne
4 kids (ages 16, 13, 11, 2)

Gifts from the big guy are not wrapped, but he does bring them from the North Pole in a monogrammed Santa sack for each girl, which he leaves behind.

– Keshia Wright, Mobile
2 kids (ages 10, 6)

At our house, Santa doesn’t wrap. We open all presents from each other (which are wrapped) on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, only Santa’s gifts are under the tree.

– Sharra McKinnon, Mobile
3 kids (ages 8, 6, 4)

Santa doesn’t wrap presents at our house. One year, he brought a kayak. I have no idea how he got it down the chimney, but he definitely didn’t wrap it!

– Ellis Passmore, Mobile
3 kids (ages 13, 9, 2)

Has he ever tracked in snow? 

As kids, my sister and I would wake up to muddy boot prints on the floor, red velvet caught in the fireplace and reindeer tracks in the front yard. There were times when Santa’s glasses were left behind, and he’d leave notes with shaky handwriting (because he was so cold). Sometimes bells even got caught in the door. It was a truly magical time of year. Even now, Santa still leaves evidence of his visit for my daughter. 

– Lindsey Wilson, Fairhope
1 kid (age 9)

Does Santa bring the snow? Oh no, but Mama brings snow every year in the form of a botched DIY flocked artificial tree. Even three years later, it still makes a humongous mess, so in addition to cookies and milk, we put out Kleenex for Santa in case his allergies kick up like ours do thanks to my faux snow. Rather than singing “Jingle bells, jingle bells…” as we decorate our tree each year, we’ll continue to sing “Flocking fail, flocking fail.” 

– Rianna Turner, Mobile
3 kids (ages 7, 5, 5)

Do you leave food for the reindeer? 

We do leave food for the reindeer. They eat all the carrots and apple slices along with a special oat, nut and glitter treat.

– Ashley Self, Mobile
1 kid (age 12)

Yep, we always put out a mix of oatmeal and glitter for them. We think they eat it, but there’s usually leftovers that stick around for a few weeks so glitter gets tracked in the house. One year, the kids added some Cheerios, and the dog got into it. He had glitter in his fur for days. 

– Anna Pavao  

christmas cookies

What snacks does your family leave for Santa? 

We always make homemade M&M cookies on Christmas Eve to leave for Santa. They are his favorite, and he definitely eats a lot of them.

– Ellis Passmore

At the least, we leave milk and cookies and thank-you cards from the kids near the fireplace. Some years, the kids have insisted on also leaving other random things that they’ve dug up, like peanut butter and
a slap bracelet. 

– Rianna Turner

In addition to milk and cookies, we also leave him an apple or banana. Santa needs something healthy before he has a sweet treat.

– Lindsey Wilson

We leave cookies and a bourbon for Santa. He deserves a drink after a long night. Usually, a bite or two is gone from the cookies as is most of the bourbon.

– Sharra McKinnon

Does your family leave Santa a thank-you note? 

The past few years, since my daughter has been able to write full sentences, she has written him a thank-you note. He is always so kind to take a few moments and write her a little something back, always in the same shaky handwriting I would see when I was young. 

– Lindsey Wilson

We don’t leave a note, but we do always include Santa in our Christmas Eve prayers, requesting safety for his journey, and expressing gratitude for the generosity and love he shares with children and families all over the world.

– Ashley Self

What time do you have to go to bed otherwise Santa skips your house?

Standard bedtime applies, around 8 p.m., unless we have been at a family member’s house for dinner and we’re running late. But it’s never past 10 p.m.— that’s too risky. We don’t want him to pass over our house. 

– Lindsey Wilson

We watch him on the Santa tracker, and if he’s getting too close, the boys have to hurry to bed. 

– Sharra McKinnon

Have you ever heard reindeer on the roof? 

When I was a kid, I heard him for sure! We lived in a home that was over 130 years old, so you could hear everything! Now it’s not as easy to hear, but we have heard their bells! 

– Lindsey Wilson

Our boys are convinced they heard reindeer on the roof last year. Their bedroom is upstairs, so they have a better chance to hear them than we do since our bedroom is downstairs.

– Ellis Passmore

Does your family have any other Christmas Eve traditions that
involve Santa? 

Our elves always leave the boys goodbye notes and Christmas pajamas before they go back to the North Pole for the year.

– Sharra McKinnon

On Christmas Eve, we all wear matching jammies and watch Christmas movies
together with popcorn before bed.

– Keshia Wright

We track Santa’s location on Christmas Eve and talk about his stops all over the world and what that experience must be like for him. Is he celebrated differently? What kinds of snacks are left for him? What kinds of gifts does he leave for children in other countries? What kinds of things are on children’s wish lists in other parts of the world?

– Ashley Self

Where is your favorite place you’ve run into Santa and visited? 

We love to see Santa at Fish River Trees when we get our Christmas tree every year. This will be the 16th year that we have seen him there.

– Ellis Passmore

Our favorite place that we have run into Santa is at the Grand Hotel. We think he likes it too and vacations there.

– Anna Pavao

When my son was younger, we always visited Santa and wrote a letter to give him at Christmas Jubilee.

– Ashley Self

Santa loves showing up to our neighborhood Christmas party, and the boys always look forward seeing him there.

– Sharra McKinnon

Have your kids ever come out on Christmas morning to see their gifts from Santa before you woke? 

Gosh no! Thankfully, they have a healthy fear of Santa and would never have the nerve to sneak downstairs and risk him being there in the dark. 

– Rianna Turner

Santa still leaves presents out even though my kids are long grown, and they still have to wait until everyone is awake to see what he’s brought. Although I’m sure they’ve peeked before.

– Miranda Hamilton, Semmes
3 grown children

The kids usually wake up before sunrise and start playing Christmas music throughout the house on Alexa to wake everyone else up. But they know they have to stay upstairs until we turn on the lights and get the coffee going.

– Ellis Passmore

Well, it depends on the age. Everyone under the age of 10 generally wakes up before we do, but over the age of 10, we have to wake them up.

– Anna Pavao

green wrapped christmas present with purple wrippen and gold bells

Has Santa ever brought coal, switches, ashes or soot? 

Oh yes! My mother asked my husband one year to get his own stocking to leave at her house. Well, he got the biggest stocking he could find. It was so big I could get inside of it like a potato sack! So that year, it was filled with switches and coal, but he also got a teeny tiny stocking filled with candy.

– Lindsey Wilson

No, but he loves bringing the boys fun socks every year.

– Sharra McKinnon

Yes, Santa did bring coal in their stockings one year, but it turned out to be chocolate.

– Ellis Passmore

No, but he always leaves a few practical things, like underwear and dental hygiene items, in everyone’s stocking. 

– Miranda Hamilton

So far, Santa has been very kind and only brought fun “good kid” things… That could always change once we hit the teenage years!

– Rianna Turner

If you stop believing in Santa, what do you get?

Everyone agrees that Santa always stands by one tradition: If you don’t believe, you don’t receive.

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