Since the 1950s, Neenah and Menasha firefighters volunteer their time to escort Santa through Fox Valley neighborhoods
Published: Dec. 20, 2022 at 10:46 PM CST
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NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) - Action 2 News offers a nightly series through December 25. We’re calling it “Countdown to Christmas,” and each night on Action 2 News at 10 our reporters will share a story of inspiration and holiday spirit. Tonight we look at a tradition many of us in the Fox Valley grew up with, including reporter Emily Roberts.

We’re getting an up-close look at Santa’s sleigh, and it has wheels!

Since the 1950s, Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue has helped Santa tour the twin cities of the Fox Valley, clearing his way with sirens and lights.

“I couldn’t hold my energy, so I just ran everywhere,” one kid in a group of young float chasers told us.

The Santa Float is a holiday staple for many Fox Valley families.

”It’s been around for about 26 years -- this trailer in specific -- but the tradition goes back to the 1950′s,” Fire Captain Anthony Leiton said.

Firefighters volunteer their time to help Santa tour Neenah and Menasha neighborhoods for 10 nights leading up to Christmas, and they’ve seen a lot!

“It’s just people coming out shirtless, without any socks, just running out,” Leiton said, “and the excitement that builds, they’re out there running and chasing the float.”

Friends and families meet up to get a glimpse of the man in the red suit.

“We just wait until he comes, and then we’ll get our gear on, then me and my brother will go outside and see Santa,” more excited float chasers said.

“It’s her first year actually knowing what Santa is, so it’s really cool for her to see it as well,” said Lacey Brandenburg, with her young daughter, Bella.

Firefighters are trying to build Santa a brand new sleigh so that he can continue to light up Neenah and Menasha for decades to come.

“We met with a local artist to create this rendering,” Capt. Leiton showed us.

The art by Bob Ulrich shows a float that’s four feet longer, with life-size, fiberglass reindeer. Donations from area families and businesses will pay for it.

Looking to contribute? There’s an ongoing GoFundMe set up.

“It’s amazing how strong this community is and how willing and giving they are to make this thing operate every year,” said Leiton.

Santa’s original chair… or sleigh… is coming to the new float, saving a piece of an everlasting tradition.

“It’s cool that we’re bringing something from the old to the new,” the fire captain said.