By Priya Idiculla
It was a breezy Sunday afternoon at Washington Market Park. There was the usual assortment of tots tumbling around the park, throwing and kicking soccer balls.
When the clock struck two, however, all of that changed. Children with smiles painted on their faces from ear to ear chimed, “We’re waiting for Santa!” as their parents restocked their Styrofoam cups with apple cider and handed them cookies laced with icing, all courtesy of The Friends of Washington Market Park.
There were carolers from the Blue Rooster Pie, a blues group led by Bill Tsapalas who performed favorites like “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer,” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in the background.
A silence descended on the crowd and then children screamed, “He’s coming!” as everyone cheered.
A shiny cherry-red pedicab advanced through the park with an elf at its helm and a procession of elves handed out candy canes following it. There in the carriage sat the man of the hour, but many children who came to the park on Dec. 17 had been waiting for Christmas and waiting for that day especially to see Santa.
Scores of children and parents were delighted at Santa’s grand entrance. “Is his hair really that white?” giggled two young girls, shyly heading toward the line that formed to see Santa.
The children, with parents in tow, formed a huddled line around the park’s main gazebo. “Are you getting shy?” a dad swathed in blue asked his rosy-cheeked daughter swathed in pink. The children patiently waited until it was their turn to hop up on Santa’s knee. Some stood in front of him and stared; others were still bolder and played with his beard. Many had a chance to have mom or dad photograph them or record them in some other digital form.
Ken Brown, a Tribeca dad, was “roped in” to be the third Santa so far for Washington Market Park, as he said later in a telephone interview. His daughter babysat for one of the organizers of Christmas Cheer in Washington Market Park, Christine Sciulli, and the rest is history.
“This is my third year doing this and originally I didn’t think I had the girth or the temperament to do it,” Brown said. Compared to department store and other Santas for hire, Brown does this of his own accord. “It is wonderful to be able to bring that much pleasure to so many people at only two hours out of the day, though I have to remind the kids though, how hard at work Santa is.”
Brown said it is always interesting to hear how kids express their ideas about Christmas over the years. “I ask them if they’re excited and you can just see that they are bubbling with enthusiasm,” Brown said. “Those are big boots to fill!”
“It is tremendous fun listening to the stories and there is a lot that goes with that when you play a role or character,” Brown said. “One child asked, ‘I don’t have a chimney! How will you stop by Santa?’ Another one asked ‘Where are the reindeer?’ and I said that I’m giving them the day off for now,” Brown chuckled.
Brown, who has been a Tribeca resident for 21 years, taught filmmaking and animation for Boston College and he still teaches an after-school cartooning class at I.S. 89 in Battery Park City. He runs his own subscription cartoon publishing service, which produces post cards and other images.
Sciulli, an organizer with the Friends of Washington Market Park, said that this year’s turnout was the biggest. Blue Rooster Pie was the difference. “We were originally supposed to have Christmas karaoke with a live deejay,” she said. “Unfortunately the plans fell through when he wanted a space heater,” Sciulli said. “I couldn’t imagine it being better.”
Santa agreed. “I think this was the best and busiest year,” he said.
Brown said there was only a bit of preparation required for his entrance. “The Santa suit is homemade and the only thing I have to do is to get ready,” Brown said. “My beard did get tugged a little and I wanted to make sure it stayed on,” he said.
Stuyvesant High School students dressed up as elves with bright Santa hats. “My daughter did it last year,” Brown said, adding that they had a lot of fun.
“The elves are helpful because the kids stand in line and the elves can get their names and write them fairly big on a notepad, so when the kids get to me I already know their names,” Brown said. “This helps when kids are feeling apprehensive and then they think, ‘Wow! Santa knows my name!’”
As far as gift requests, Brown said he was happy to report that each child had one specific thing they wanted instead of a laundry list and none of them were brand names. “One little girl wanted a turtle and one young boy wanted a puppy and there were a few videogame-y type requests.”
“I have enjoyed this for the three years that I’ve done it and I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t continue to do it for at least the next several years,” Brown said. “I wanted to do this for the last true believers.”
A little boy scooted off of Santa’s lap and headed toward the pile of cookies. “Bye Santa,” he said “Good luck on Christmas!”