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.