COVID-19: Santa takes his annual show on the road

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A Santa suit made for him by his Aunt Kate when he was in high school led Patrick O’Toole on an annual tour of preschools, nursing homes, and family homes as the Jolly Old Elf. Given that the tour has lasted six decades, it’s really more like a labor of love for the longtime Saginaw-area educator and school administrator who retired in 2004.

For the past 15 years, the usual Santa family event has been at his daughter Colleen Erskine’s holiday party in Brighton. Each year, eight to 10 families with 30-plus kids gather to celebrate the season and enjoy appetizers, cookies, and other goodies while waiting for Santa to arrive.

“When we knew Santa was close we would have all of the children gather by the tree and we would choose an older child to read a Christmas story,” Erskine said. “Then, you would hear the jingle bells enter through the front door.”

Closely following the sound of the jingle bells was Santa himself, who would take his seat of honor by the Christmas tree. He would visit with the children to learn what they wanted for Christmas and he’d give them a small gift. Then it was time for family photos and group shots.

But this year posed a new challenge for the event.

“It’s such a wonderful tradition,” Erskine said. “But due to COVID, it’s not conducive for Santa to be around so many people at once.”

So, instead of the big gathering of families this year, O’Toole transformed into Santa and was driven to the homes of the individual families throughout the Brighton and Hartland area on Dec. 20 to deliver cookies and spread his Christmas cheer.

While Erskine called it a “great compromise,” it looks to us like it was also a great amount of fun.

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