Santa Fly By coming to Hayden Saturday, Dec. 14
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Merging her own family’s tradition with the nearly 80-year tradition of the Webber Roving Christmas Tree, Lisa Steele is ensuring Santa Claus will once again roll his way through the streets of Hayden this holiday season.
On Saturday, Dec. 14, Santa and his elves will pass out gift bags from his throne atop a pickup truck and trailer float, “slow-rolling” through the neighborhoods of Hayden. They will start at 2:30 p.m. in the Dry Creek Village subdivision.
Steele and her husband moved to Hayden from Steamboat Springs in 2016, the first year the Webber Roving Christmas Tree didn’t appear — aside from a few years during the Great Depression — since its inception in the 1930s.
In Denver in 1998, Steele and her family started the Santa Fly By, which included a food drive.
Like the Webbers, they drove through the neighborhood on a homemade float with Santa and passed out goodies to the kids who came out of their houses to greet them. Steele would paint the children’s faces to look like elves, as her own group of volunteer elves, including her three sons, handed out the gift bags.
At the same time, they encouraged the kids to bring out unused food items from their houses, all of which were then donated to a food bank.
“We collected literally tons of food over the years,” Steele said of passing by the 890 homes in her Littleton neighborhood. “It was like a mini-parade.”
In 1938, Walter and Gertrude Webber began driving a Christmas float through downtown Steamboat Springs playing holiday music.
Over the years they added a tree, Santa Claus and candy and popcorn balls for the kids who came out to see it go by.
Four generations of the Webber family participated in the effort over 77 years. The roving tree moved to Hayden in the 1970s and, in 2005, was largely taken over by Webber’s granddaughter Cindy Wright. In 2016, Wright retired the roving tree.
In 2017, then Hayden Middle School student Dylan Brady took it upon himself to carry on the tradition.
Now, with the blessing from Wright and borrowing some of the decorations from the Webber Roving Christmas Tree, Steele wants to carry forward the parade-like aspect, adding her family’s tradition of a food drive.
Donation stations for the collection of nonperishable food items will be set up at Hayden Mercantile, Yampa Valley Brewery and the Hayden Police Station. Neighbors can also bring donations out when Santa passes by, but the donation stations are preferred to ensure space, Steele said.
Everything will be donated to LiftUp of Routt County, and Steele said they will also collect things like mittens, socks, gently used coats and hygiene items, such as diapers, toothpaste and shampoo.
For Steele, this year’s Hayden Santa Fly By is somewhat experimental. She just had her hip replaced and is still looking for more volunteers. She plans to make it to every neighborhood, ending on Main Street around 5:30 p.m.
Steele is still looking for a DJ to play Christmas music but has some alternative ideas for tunes. She was able to get some sponsorship from Yampa Valley Bank, Alpine Lumber and Yampa Valley Brewery and is getting ready to stuff about 300 goody bags with toys and treats.
Steele’s son Christopher Hannaman, who graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in 2016 and now lives in Denver, was the one who suggested she bring their Fly By to Hayden. He will be coming to help with his wife and two young children. Her other son Zach Hannaman served in the U.S. Army and now attends Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs. He’s also been recruited to revive their family tradition. Her third son is currently serving in the military.
During her own childhood, Steele’s Christmas tradition was unique.
She grew up in Iran, with an American mother and an Iranian father. Her maternal grandparents always visited for Christmas and brought with them the rituals from the United States. Her father’s company employed a number of Americans and always hosted a Christmas party. And the family always had a tree.
Steele’s famly moved to the U.S. after the 1979 Revolution, when she was 10 years old.
Iran was a very different place in the 1970s with a much more Westernized culture, according to Steele. The revolution replaced a pro-Western authoritarian monarchy with an anti-Western theocracy.
Steele is a member of the Bahai religion, which teaches “the essential worth of all religions and the unity and equality of all people.”
Today, she attends the Hayden United Methodist Church and is the only Bahai she knows of living in Hayden. Steele’s husband’s family has deep roots in the area, having homesteaded in Maybell.
Steele said she loves the small town feel and close-knit community of Hayden. Her hope is to continue the communal holiday joy the Webber family started with their roving tree, while adding the philanthropic component.
As they roll by, everyone is invited to come out and greet Santa, get a goody bag and join in the parade. Elves who want to volunteer and have their faces painted are asked to come to the start of the Fly By. If you are interested in volunteering, message Steele on the Hayden Santa Fly By Facebook page or call her at 720-588-7481.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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