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In Wiggins, Santa puts on a show

Santa’s sleigh is a Wiggins fire truck

Jody O'Hara reprises his role as Santa for annual Christmas Eve event.
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Jody O'Hara reprises his role as Santa for annual Christmas Eve event.

“Hear the snow crunch, see the kids bunch, this is Santa’s big scene....”

It’s rare to hear snow crunch in South Mississippi, but with apologies to “Silver Bells” composers Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, Wiggins just might be the true big scene for Santa.

That’s because every Christmas Eve for at least the past 30 years, Santa Claus has climbed aboard a Wiggins Fire Department truck and made his rounds in town, wishing the children a merry Christmas — and encouraging them to get their little behinds in bed.

“It’s probably been 30, 35 years, I don’t know,” Fire Chief Jody Hatten said. “We leave the fire station around 4 p.m. and try to be through by 10 p.m.

“We ride down every street in Wiggins. Santa tells the boys and girls goodnight, and that he’ll be returning with their gifts.”

You read that correctly. Every street in town. For six hours.

“Chief Richard Tice started it back in the early ’80s,” Hatten said. “We’ve had to expand the hours over the years, back it up until now we’ve backed it up to 4 p.m. for starting time. Back when Chief Tice did it, Santa would call out children’s names. People would (phone the station) and give names and addresses of the ones who would be there that night.”

As you might imagine, that was quite an undertaking involving several people. Someone at the station would take the calls, then the information would go out on the department’s radio, and those on the truck would need to make sure they made the trip to the right house.

“Richard passed away in ’04,” Hatten said. “It was a big effort to put it together every year. We did it in ’04 and ’05, but Katrina was in ’05, and after that, a lot of new people came to Wiggins and it was a hectic time all around. So in 2006, we decided to just go down every street.”

Tice was a volunteer fire chief, and Hatten is Wiggins’ first full-time chief.

Not unlike the Fire Department itself, Santa — or the Santas — work in shifts on the truck.

“We have three or four different Santas each Christmas Eve, ’cause that’s six hours altogether we’re doing this,” Hatten said. “Some people do it year after year — it’s that much fun. For everybody who does it, it’s a real joy.

“It’s always a fun thing to do, especially when you see the 3- to 5-year-olds who are really getting into it. You can see they’re thinking, ‘Oh gosh, here he is, I’d better get in bed.’ ”

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1

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