Northfield’s 22nd Winter Walk is right around the corner, and guess who will be there? Santa’s elves, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Frosty the Snowman, of course! Come look for them as they meander up and down Division Street after the Tree Lighting Ceremony (5:00 PM) - if, that is, you can pull yourself away from Northfield Library’s Magic of Model Trains exhibit (starting at 3:30 PM). While you’re downtown, enjoy free horse and wagon rides, a cup of hot cocoa, Arts Guild performances, and any number of other festive attractions. OR, just enjoy roaming the streets! Even if the Chamber of Commerce’s hidden snowflake ornament has already been found, you can still search for friends, neighbors, or your favorite carolers and bid them all a happy yuletide and Merry Christmas.
Santa himself will be visiting with children at the Northfield Historical Society from 4:30pm until 8pm or later, and we’re certainly excited for his return to Winter Walk! When was the last time you saw him in Northfield? It depends on where you look! In past years, the children at the Northfield Viking Terrace Mobile Home Park only had to open their door to see him, and he’s even learned to use Zoom in the last couple of years. Northfield’s own Santa, a retired St. Olaf sociology professor named Michael Leming, has used his Santa suit to spread unconditional love and kindness around the world, from Northfield to Thailand and back again. To find out about his journey, I had a chat with Ole Saint Nick himself.
Leming’s motivation came in part from his childhood - at Christmas his father was fond of reminding him that we should appreciate all that we have, and he realized that what we often take for granted can be a tremendous blessing to others. The driving force behind his continuing work as Santa, however, came from quite a different quarter. As Santa says, good things are always one step and then another, and his first step was an e-mail message.
More than three decades ago, Leming sent a simple email message sent to a St Olaf list asking if anyone was in need of a Santa for their holiday party - in return for these Santa appearances, Leming asked people to make donations to support causes near and dear to his heart in Thailand, where Leming had a long history of charitable work - including personally supporting an orphanage and services for the economically disadvantaged. After one evening appearance as Santa, Leming was gassing up at a local service station and noticed a group of hispanic children watching him - still in his Santa suit - with excitement. The amazement and wonder in their faces led him to begin giving out candy canes door-to-door at Viking Terrace in order to bring that same joy to other children. When it was too cold to visit children outdoors, the park office offered to host the visits, providing a warmer space for the residents to meet with Santa.
More recently, when Viking Terrace could no longer offer space to host these meetings, Leming sought out a new venue. The result of his efforts was an evening meal for the Viking Terrace community, hosted at Greenvale school. At the end of the evening, each family returned home with a turkey or ham for their holiday dinner, along with special memories of a visit with Santa.
Leming’s own life has also been enriched by his work as Santa. Among his several Santa suits is one made by the orphanage in Thailand, a reminder that Santa has the power to bring together people half a world apart and to spread joy right here at home. As Leming hears the hopes and wishes of Northfield’s children this holiday season, he also has a message for them: be safe, be happy, give thanks, and help somebody else.