Harrison County

One magical night a year, Santa and Mrs. Claus visit children in this Gulfport neighborhood

Each year, on one evening a week before Christmas, Chris and Georgie Breard load up the sleigh and, with the help of their trusty elves, visit boys and girls in their neighborhood.

Wait. Is that correct? Sleigh? Elves?

Sure. Because on that night, the Breards transform into Santa and Mrs. Claus. It just so happens his name is Chris, so similar to Kris Kringle. It just so happens they live on Holly Court. How they became their neighborhood’s ambassadors for Christmas, however, is not really a coincidence.

The Breards have lived in Bayou Oaks for 30 years; their house was built in 1987. “And we started about that time,” Chris said.

They were driving down U.S. 90 in Biloxi near where the Lady Luck Casino once stood, and Chris suddenly made a U-turn. He had found a dream come true standing in front of an antiques store: a one-horse open sleigh. “It was something I needed,” he recalled.

“What are you going to do it with?” Georgie, being practical, asked her husband. Chris, being just as practical, replied, “I’m going to dress up as Santa Claus and hand out candy to the kids in the neighborhood.”

During most of the holiday season, the sleigh is part of the Breards’ outdoor display, which includes a manger with life-sized Fontanini figures, the Grinch and his dog/faux reindeer, an elf barn where animated figurines hammer and saw, and two lifelike figures having Christmas tea on the front porch.

“Oh, that’s Mae and Eula,” Georgie said, laughing. “They show up in a lot of things we have throughout the year.”

Indeed. Mae and Eula’s decidedly zombie-like complexions belie their other roles as creatures in the Breards’ equally impressive Halloween display. Their Halloween hijinks were the first thing the couple introduced to their neighborhood.

“Then we added the Christmas one, to keep everybody from thinking we were total pagans,” Chris joked. He started the manger scene with Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, acquired in an after-Christmas sale. Then, on a trip to Vatican City, they were able to strike a deal with a local shop owner for the three wise men and the peasant girl.

An animated Santa and Mrs. Claus usually stand in or near the sleigh, which has a deer “pulling” it in the display (the deer has a place inside the house during the rest of the year, Georgie said). When they take the sleigh around the neighborhood, it’s pulled by a golf cart.

“Not just any horse can pull this, you know,” Chris said. The horse would have to be able to stop and go as the Clauses drive up to each house where a red sign stating “Santa, stop here” is attached to the mailbox. Via email, the entire neighborhood is alerted to the Breards’ planned night, which includes a rain night. This year, they were supposed to visit neighbors on Dec. 18, Monday night, with Tuesday as the alternative. But the weather was bad both nights, and the couple pushed the big night to that Thursday, a clear, pleasant evening.

“When the sun goes down,” as Georgie describes their start time, the couple and their “elves” start the lights on the sleigh and get the golf cart rolling. Instead of blades, the sleigh moves along on six rollers. The elves are friends who hand out bags of candy and help make sure every house in the neighborhood where somebody wants a visit gets to see the Clauses.

“Sometimes people might forget to put the sign out. Or like this year, one lady had put it out and it got wet, so we know to stop there. If there’s a house we know has children and we know they’ll want a visit, one of the elves will go up and knock on the door, so nobody gets left out,” Georgie said.

Santa and Mrs. Claus meet the children inside or outside, chat with them and their families, have pictures taken and ask the children what they want for Christmas. Sometimes the little ones, in awe that Santa is in his or her own house, freeze up and forget what they want. Sometimes they talk — and talk and talk.

“And sometimes, they’ll ask for something they didn’t inform their parents about,” Georgie said.

On this particular night, one boy asked for a lawnmower.

The Breards’ favorite part of the night is seeing the various reactions of the children, and getting to see them grow up.

“The children are so wonderful,” Georgie said. “We started doing this when our children were young. Now, the children who are their age are grown up with their own children and they move into the neighborhood or bring their families to their grandparents’ house and we get to visit their children. It’s just a wonderful experience.”

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1