Among the many photographs that Leonard Ipri and his family gave me the privilege of adding to my collection is this one – and it’s one of my favorites. This simple photograph of four firemen donning red and white Santa Claus suits for the annual “Operation Santa Claus” tells the story of a great Seaside Heights Volunteer Fire Company tradition that has stood the test of time I am told for over 50 years. I recognize Gerry Graichen, who passed away about two years ago, standing second from left. Gerry was a personal friend and served as our Fire Chief and other operational positions for many years. I believe that the man standing third from the left is Mr. Gabriel (Andy? Ward? I know the Fire Company membership included two Gabriels. Somebody please help me out.) This photo is thought to have been taken in the 1960s. More information, if you have any, is desired. Please e-mail me.
The Christmas Eve tradition is one that many of us have participated in. I remember doing “Santa Claus” duty during my early years with the Fire Company – all 120 pounds of me back then. I wore a large Coast Guard style lifesaving vest under the red jacket to add some much needed bulk. The Santas and their helpers ride on four or five fire trucks that travel throughout Seaside Heights, Pelican Island, and Ortley Beach, stopping door to door to pass out gifts to the young children. Before liability issues became a cause for concern in the litigation age, many locals would eagerly wait for us so that we could share a Christmas spirit (at Lil Leedom’s house I remember well the eggnog spiked with rum!).
Over the years, our gifts have included dollar bills, oranges, candy canes, boxed chocolate, dolls, toy cars, and other items donated by local businesses. In more recent years, we added Mrs. Claus to the Christmas Eve tradition. Women members of the Fire Company and Auxiliary now dress convincingly in Mrs. Claus holiday costumes and accompany the Santas to help spread Christmas joy!