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Yes, Turlock, there is a Santa Claus
santa firetruck pic1
Santa makes his rounds in the neighborhoods of Turlock on Saturday night atop a Turlock Fire Incorporated engine. He is greeted with waves and smiling faces. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

If I ever had any doubt of the continued existence of Christmas spirit, it was finally put to rest on Saturday night.

This weekend I was fortunate enough to ride along with Santa and his elves on a vintage 1955 fire engine spreading holiday cheer through the neighborhoods of Turlock. What I learned on my very cold, but enlightening ride with St. Nick was that Turlock truly does still have that small-town feel and everyone loves Santa.

Every December, members of Turlock Fire Incorporated and their families volunteer to drive Santa around town. On Saturday, I rode with Turlock Fire Captain Casey Cockrell, his wife Liz, their kids, Amanda, Kyle and Rebecca, a few family friends — and, of course, Santa. This was the Cockrell family’s 10th year of escorting Santa.

The best part of the annual trip: “Just seeing the reaction of the kids and adults,” said Casey Cockrell. “I’ve seen people running out with towels and everyone wants to take a picture with Santa.”

On Saturday, I was treated to my fair share of pajama-clad kids running out to wave at Santa. And it wasn’t just children who left their warm homes to catch a glimpse of St. Nick and his fire engine transport.

The City of Turlock posted a searchable schedule on its website for Santa and his elves, so many families knew what day to expect a visit. Some people were waiting for the one engine holiday parade as we made our rounds. A few enterprising kids built a campsite in their front yard to wait for St. Nick.

The best part was when we came upon holiday parties in progress. The little kids’ eyes would light up and you just knew they were thinking that Santa traveled all the way from the North Pole just to come to their party. Whenever children came out to see Santa, that’s when the Cockrells and friends would jump down from the fire truck and hand out candy.

I could tell this annual family tradition was a favorite of Amanda, Kyle and Rebecca. They enjoyed shouting, “Merry Christmas!” at everyone who came out of their doors to see what the commotion was all about. And not a child in sight was left without a present of candy from Santa’s elves Saturday night.

Liz said the whole family looks forward to the event every year. When I asked what was the oddest thing that ever happened while riding around with Santa, Liz said when they went down Christmas Tree Lane one year and ran into another Santa.

“The young kids were asking how there could be two Santas,” Liz said. “We didn’t know what to tell them.”

Fortunately, there were no doppelgangers on Saturday, and the trip around northeast Turlock went smoothly. I don’t know if it was the Christmas music blaring from the fire truck, Santa saying “ho, ho, ho” or the merriment of the Cockrells as they spread holiday cheer, but Turlock looked different on that night.

Everyone we passed was a neighbor — in the truest since of the word — and the disconnect so many feel in these troubled times was nowhere to be found.

So, I say again:

Yes, (Turlock), there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no (Turlocks). There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. (From original editorial that appeared in the Sept. 21, 1897 edition of The (New York) Sun)

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.