Santa arrives to spread cheer in Linden

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LINDEN, NJ — Santa Claus came to town on Sunday, Dec. 6. In a new twist on an old theme, he did a drive-by event with Linden Mayor Derek Armstead throughout Linden, courtesy of the Mayor’s Youth Commission.

“We had some volunteers with the fire department and the police department to help us out and escort us through town,” said Armstead on Monday, Dec. 7. “The Mayor’s Youth Commission is a commission that was set up by ordinance some years back. We have a commission, and we try to address the needs of our youth.”

The mayor explained that, every year, the commission organizes Project Bash, which is responsible for Linden’s high school graduation. “On graduation evening, when all of the kids come together, we have a big party, rather than have them go out and put themselves at risk. We keep them all in one location and let them have fun. They stay the whole night, where we bus them in, and we bus them back home in the morning. We do things like the annual Santa Breakfast, Kids to Park Day, ‘BackPack’ to School and other various events to address the youth in town.”

COVID-19 put a damper on the Santa Breakfast this year, so Armstead decided a Santa drive-by would be an acceptable replacement.

“The whole Santa ride through town was a result of us not being able to do our normal, yearly activities with the children,” said the mayor. “What we were trying to do was spread a little joy to some of the young people in town, since we couldn’t have the breakfast. I think Santa’s Breakfast is a great event but, again, since we couldn’t have it, we had to try to fill that void.”

On Sunday, Dec. 6, Santa began his ride at City Hall and journeyed throughout Linden, giving as many people as possible the opportunity to see him, particularly children.

“Sunday, we did the 1st, 2nd, 7th, 9th and 10th wards,” Armstead said. “We were scheduled to do Saturday and Sunday, but of course it rained Saturday, so we didn’t get a chance to do the whole city. But we’ll be doing the remainder of the city this coming weekend.

“It was very hard to determine how many children we were going to see. Normally, when we have our tree-lighting ceremony, we have some sort of idea how many children are going to show up, and the Mayor’s Youth Commission goes out and we buy toys and small gifts for all of the children, but we just couldn’t do it this year. The reason why we had Santa go through town is because we didn’t have our tree-lighting ceremony.”

Sandy Jackson, the president of the Mayor’s Youth Commission, was glad that this alternative to the breakfast proved so successful at cheering up the children. She said even the senior citizens loved it.

“We came up with an idea,” said Jackson on Monday, Dec. 7. “Our Public Property Department actually built a sled, the Fire Department donated their crew cab to pull the sled and we got a Santa, Rebecca Tattoli’s son, Carl Tattoli, who’s a firefighter in Linden. We had music, created a route, hired the Linden Police Department to be a safe escort and we drove around town. It was fantastic.”

“Sandy and I decided to ride through town with Santa,” said Rebecca Tattoli, the secretary for the mayor as well as a trustee of the Mayor’s Youth Commission, on Monday, Dec. 7. “Initially, we were going to hire someone to pull a wagon, but I had to brainstorm and I thought of the idea of a Santa’s sleigh. So, that’s what we did.

“We got a Santa sleigh put together for the event. Our police officers were very cooperative in giving us coverage for moving along through the streets. Our Fire Department pulled the trailer that the sleigh was mounted to through the town, our Public Properties Department put the sleigh together, painted it and installed a sound system for Christmas music. My son, Carl Tattoli, volunteered as Santa, and we had a wonderful time.

“We had kids standing on street corners, jumping up and down, because Santa was coming. It was a breath of fresh air just knowing that we were warming their hearts after this horrific year that we’ve all been through, especially our children.”

Jackson agreed.

“The people that we touched, they were so excited,” she said. “They accepted it, and they knew this was all we can do, and they were happy that we did it.”

According to Jackson, the Department of Public Relations, Department of Public Property and Department of Recreation also assisted in this effort.

“I feel pretty good about it,” Armstead said. “It’s pretty much the same as what we did during Easter. We rode through town. I was dressed up as the Easter Bunny for 11 hours one day and nine hours another day, which was a total of 20 hours. But regarding Sunday, this was the main Christmas event we’re having this year. Santa will make his way through a different route on Saturday, but we’ll have to watch the weather.

“The event was a very nice turnout. My kids were out to see Santa, so it was a nice event. It’s a joy to see the smiles on children’s faces as we go through town. Given the fact that many children were denied a normal life this year because of COVID-19, I think this was a great event.”

The mayor said he has high hopes for next year, which perhaps promises a return to a sense of normalcy.

“I hope we can go back to normal,” Armstead said. “Our Christmas-tree lighting is a very nice event. All of the council members are there. families come out from all over town and it’s just a great day. We have a Santa Claus there, kids take pictures, we give away toys, we raffle off bicycles and there are all kinds of great gifts. It’s just an outstanding day. I’m looking forward to that next year.”

Photos Courtesy of Brad Creanzo and Rebecca Tattoli