South Whidbey has enjoyed Santa’s visit  — sponsored by our local South Whidbey Fire/EMS — in their neighborhoods — since 1995. This year, though with COVID keeping us socially distanced, families celebrated the tradition from their cars at the new fire station on Bayview Road near Bayview Corner.

“People used to get out and get pictures with Santa,” said Sherrye Wyatt, communication and media relations consultant with South Whidbey Fire/EMS for the past ten years. Everyone looked forward to it. Even adults were excited to wave at Santa.”

Santa + Mrs. Claus greet drive by visitors at Bayview Fire/EMS station the past week

I recall a visit by Santa and his sleigh outside the Clyde Theatre in Langley. We were seeing a Harry Potter movie with friends years ago. The crowd ran outside to joyfully greet Santa while Christmas music played. Seeing him, I recalled long-ago memories, thrilled at getting a visit with Santa at department stores in the Midwest, and hoping one year to get a Chatty Cathy doll. (She did arrive!)

Rethinking the popular tradition this year, which previously included crowds of kids and grownups hugging and posing with Santa, firefighters, EMS staff, and volunteers didn’t want the COVID Grinch to steal the holiday spirit.

Christmas Grinch gets into the holiday spirit

“The department wondered what we could do to bring cheer, but without hugging people,” Sherrye added. They decided on a drive-through concept. And they added a request for donating non-perishable goods to Good Cheer Food Bank.”

EMT volunteer Terry Welch collects non-perishable goods for Good Cheer from visitors in drive through holiday celebration at Bayview Firestation #36

Evenings this week from Thursday Dec. 10 through Saturday Dec. 12, the community is invited to visit Station #36, enjoy the decorations, get a goody bag, wave to Santa and Mrs. Claus, glimpse elves, and even see a Grinch.

Friday, Dec. 11 from 5:30 to 7:30, and Saturday from 4:30 to 7:30, cars will be directed up a long driveway on the left side to a big parking lot, where they turn and head down on the fire station side. Volunteers will hand out gift bags. Visitors will stay in their cars as they drive through.

“The department is working hard to make it festive, decorating along the driveway,” Sherrye added. “Everyone is doing their best to make it as fun as it can be while keeping social distancing.

On Thursday night, This is Whidbey’s photographer David Welton and I visited Station #36. I noticed the festive mood and appreciated all the hard work by staff and volunteers. In the dark night, I enjoyed the festive lights, inflatable decorations, and even a screen with a video of a snowman that drivers could pass by to get them into the spirit.

Snowman greets visitors at top of hill at Bayview Fire/EMS holiday celebration

“I had a lot of help,” said Paul Shimada, an EMT/firefighter, who has been the event’s main organizer for several years.”

Terry Welch, another EMT/firefighter, recalled previous Santa visits: “My favorite part was walking with Santa and the kids came up. Jon Gabelein (who is Santa for the fire department) will miss shaking hands.”

By 5:30 a steady stream of cars had arrived. Masked faces looked out open car windows. We exchanged ‘Merry Christmas!’ greetings. I was in the moment, connecting with community, to bring a little cheer to this hard year.

A little girl’s face reflects the holiday cheer at Bayview Fire/EMS #36 while her family drove through to greet Santa and Mrs. Claus

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