For the first time in many, many years, Santa will make a grand arrival in Sikeston to help area residents kick off the holiday season.
"It's a tradition that Sikeston used to do, and I'm glad to be a part of it again," Santa said. "I'm scheduled to arrive at 11 a.m. this Saturday at the Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores parking lot."
"We're excited - we're thrilled Santa's going to be landing at Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores so all the kids can come out and meet him," said Lisa Neumeyer, manager for the Outlet Stores. "We're inviting all the children to come out and watch him arrive."
Unlike Christmas Eve when all good children are in bed, "the kids will be able to meet Santa and get their picture taken with them," Neumeyer noted.
Following his arrival and some pictures, children can take rides with Santa around the parking lot in Pepsi Cola's sleigh from 1-4 p.m. Santa will also be offering sleigh rides from 1-4 p.m. Sunday and will return for more picture opportunities and sleigh rides Dec. 18 and 19.
As is often the standard procedure for pre-Christmas visits, Santa will arrive by helicopter, courtesy of the Air Evac Lifeteam. "They have volunteered to take Santa around rather quickly so we can visit other towns too," Santa said. "The reindeer are resting up for Christmas Eve."
"We're glad we could be of assistance," said Jason Merritt, flight paramedic for Air Evac Lifeteam. "It's kind of a different approach for Santa using a helicopter instead of a sleigh."
The landing will be coordinated by Miner Fire Chief Benny Thurston.
Mrs. Claus and the elves will not be accompanying Santa for the visit. The elves are busy making toys, of course, and Mrs. Claus is presently occupied "baking cookies and stuff for the elves that have to help me on Christmas Eve," Santa explained, "and she's getting my flight suit ready."
Shad Old said he, for one, is glad to see the grand arrival tradition revived in Sikeston. "I can remember when I was a little kid it was a big deal," Old said.
All proceeds collected from the event are being donated by Santa to the YMCA of Southeast Missouri.
"It will go toward our 'Partnership With Youth Program,'" said Jeff Partridge, executive director of the YMCA of Southeast Missouri. "It funds scholarships and our youth programs."
For those who are wondering, it wasn't a lack of true Christmas spirit in this area that kept him from making grand arrivals for pre-Christmas visits over recent years, according to Santa.
"You know the world has become more populated - there are many, many more children. Santa Claus actually has many towns that would like to have my presence," he explained. "It's a little harder for Santa to get around."