Flying reindeer can be scary

When our oldest was 4 and starting to wonder whether Santa was really real, we spent Christmas with my in-laws in Billings, Montana.

What’s neat about Christmas in Billings is that, on Christmas Eve, Santa’s sleigh buzzes Billings and other nearby towns around suppertime.

It’s a tradition that started in 1981 when a local aviator named Gerhart Blain hitched a light display in the shape of a sleigh and reindeer beneath a blacked-out helicopter.  Blain passed away a couple years ago, leaving his sons in charge.

So, the year we went to Montana for Christmas, Grandma and Grandpa told Thing 1 that if she went outside after supper and looked toward the rimrocks, she might see Santa.

She didn’t believe them, of course, but then we saw it, a speck of light flying above the rimrocks toward the house. Within a few seconds, we could make out Santa, his sleigh and a couple of reindeer, all outlined in lights.

I’ll never forget the look on Thing 1’s face:

Panic. Complete and utter panic.

“I’m not in bed!” she wailed, bursing into tears and trying to hide behind Sweetie. “He won’t stop!”

It’s OK, we told her. Santa’s just getting started. He won’t stop at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a few hours. You’ve got plenty of time!

“No!” she screamed. “He won’t stop! I’m not in bed!”

We finally calmed her down and put her to bed, and the next morning, she saw that we were right. Santa came, and he was very generous.

I wish we’d taped Santa’s sleigh and Thing 1’s reaction, but we didn’t. I looked around online, though, and finally found a clip of the helicopter-powered sleigh over Laurel, Montana, last Christmas.

22 thoughts on “Flying reindeer can be scary

  1. What a sweet tradition 🙂 It must be so cool to watch Santa in the dark sky. Only helicopter noise spoils it a little 🙂

  2. That is utterly amazing. I kind of love Gerhart Blain for creating such a magical tradition.

    Poor Thing 1. Those 4-year-old freak-outs are almost as spectacular as Santa’s sleigh zooming above the rooftops.

    1. I found his obituary when I was trying to find pictures and videos to include here. It said his wife once threw him a surprise birthday party. It was a big bash, apparently, because he showed up in disguise, and no one recognized him until he revealed himself near the end of the party. Sounds like a cool guy.

    1. What’s funny is that she totally doesn’t remember it. She was almost 5. You’d think you’d remember seeing Santa’s sleigh flying over Grandma’s house, but she swears she doesn’t really remember it. May be it was too traumatic.

  3. Totally awesome and magical, Todd! It looks so real that I can’t imagine anybody NOT believing. And poor Thing 1 — but at least y’all were able to reassure her with “goodies” the next morning!

  4. What a neat idea! There was a man here in Saint John who created a giant Christmas display called “Murphyville” (his last name was Murphy) every year until he died, and his family continued it.

    Thing 1 was questioning Santa’s existence at 4? She is precocious! Hope just found out “the truth” about Santa recently (she’s 12!).

    Thanks for sharing this, Todd!


  5. Three grandsons lived with us when they were little and now again for the last 7 years. The oldest, at age 2, refused to believe in Santa. It was just not mathematically possible. I tried footsteps on the floor in flour and everything to think of. Wish I lived in Billings. What a great story and a great thing to do.

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