Spoiler alert: The below article contains secret information on the magic of Christmas. If you are younger than the age of 12, please do not keep reading.
It’s been approximately 50 years since the Elgin Rural Fire Protection District began Operation Santa Claus. While the annual operation has changed forms several times over the years, it remains one of the small town’s most anticipated events.
Tonight, starting at dusk, firefighters from ERFPD will become Santa’s helpers. The jolly group will don red suits, put on white beards and stocking caps, and ride fire trucks around town passing out goody bags — containing candy, an orange and a small toy — to members of the community, young and old.
Elgin Fire Chief Kevin Silvernail said his department tries to hit every house within Elgin’s city limits and passes out an estimated 1,000 bags every year.
“We try to knock on every door, and if they’re opened, we come into the house and deliver the bag and off we go to the next house,” said Silvernail, who has been the fire chief for six years and a firefighter in Elgin for 18.
“I think they get the joy of seeing Santa Claus come down the street in a fire truck,” he said. “The little kids are just waiting there to see Santa Claus. Even the elderly people get a kick out of it.”
Silvernail said while he isn’t sure the exact year it started, he knows a past fire chief began the tradition by simply passing out candy to the children in Elgin on Christmas Eve. It then morphed into children visiting Santa at the Elgin Opera House. Now, the tradition encompasses an approximately four-hour operation to make sure no house in the town is forgotten.
The goody bags are funded by community donations and ticket sales from an annual firewood raffle, where the wood is donated from Boise Cascade.
For volunteer firefighter Chad Hallgarth, the Operation Santa Claus tradition stretches three generations. His grandfather Myron “Jiggs” Hallgarth donned the iconic red suit during his time as firefighter, as did Chad’s father, James Hallgarth.
“It’s something to be proud of,” Chad said. “Being part of the community is the best part. It’s a fun night when the entire community gets to enjoy Operation Santa Claus.”
Chad, who will be one of Santa’s helpers this year, said his favorite part of the annual tradition is giving the gift bags to children.
“The look on the little kids’ faces is priceless,” he said.
No matter what the weather may be — a chance of snow is currently in the forecast for tonight — the fire trucks will make the trek around Elgin. Nothing will keep them from completing their Santa duties. In years past, Silvernail said, the firefighters have had to detour from Operation Santa Claus to respond to a fire, which they did while wearing their Santa suits.
“We still went back and finished delivering to kids after we got the fire taken care of,” Silvernail said.
Elgin Mayor Alan Duffy said the event is one the community eagerly anticipates.
“All of the people and the kids of Elgin just look forward to Santa coming through the door,” Duffy said. “It’s a relatively small community, and Santa goes to every house. That visit on Christmas Eve (is what) all the folks in Elgin are excited about.”