The annual Victorian Street Walk comes to life here, in the upstate town of Saratoga Springs, New York. Now celebrating its 30th year, it’s been a tradition for me these past sixteen. No matter how many times I take part in this remarkable event, it has the exact same effect on me. I become one of five young sisters, excitedly waiting for Santa and his reindeer.
Christmas…. Just saying the word makes me happy. I think of home and family. I’m instantly brought back to that Charlie Brown tree we’d get from the woods every year. My father would have to nail it into the hardwood floor in the living room, so it wouldn’t tip over. We would decorate it with ornaments that told a story. Whether hand-made or store-bought each one had meaning. Gaily wrapped presents would suddenly appear under the tree Christmas morning, taking our breath away when we finally got to come out of the bedroom and say “Merry Christmas!”
I remember the first time I walked through the streets of Saratoga during the Victorian Street Walk. I was awe-struck and a little bit weepy. Broadway is closed to traffic for the evening and thousands of people walk around leisurely, enjoying the simplicity and true meaning of the holiday.
Saratoga’s Downtown Business Association does an amazing job of re-creating Christmas during the month of December, but on the first Thursday after Thanksgiving each year, the spirit of Christmas is jaw dropping. Susan Farnsworth states, “We sought to create an atmosphere during the Victorian Street Walk, where children, teenagers and adults alike, could walk away with the warmest Christmas memories. We wanted people to relax, soaking in the sights and sounds of what the holiday is all about.”
Christmas is a thick, warm blanket over Saratoga, on this night especially. Wandering around the streets from 6-10pm you’ll find carolers dressed in authentic Victorian clothing, aspiring young ballet dancers performing in storefront windows, musicians and other entertainers working hard to create the precious joy and magic of this holiday, everywhere you turn.
Meeting Mrs. Claus
I remember the year I wrote a letter to Santa. I told Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus that I would love to meet with them when they next visited Saratoga. I’d heard that they snuck down early sometimes, and I wanted to thank them in person for all of the memories they’d given me as a child. I wrote that I still believed in the magic of Christmas, even at 55 years young.
Months later, I opened a letter from the North Pole and my invitation had been accepted by Mrs. Santa Claus. She agreed to meet me for coffee at a little shop in Saratoga called “The Spot.” I was ecstatic. The child in me was jumping up and down in excitement. How lucky was I, having coffee with one of my favorite people in the whole wide world!
Precious stories, that’s what she gave me. “You are making me remember things that I have not thought of in a year”, she exclaimed.” How wonderful!” And so it started, with Mrs. Santa and me, two cups of steaming coffee and the magic of Christmas memories.
Christmas Memories of Mrs. Claus
The first thing she remembered about her visit to Saratoga, twenty seven years ago, was how quaint and Victorian the town was. She recalled how she and Mr. Santa had been personally invited to come and celebrate the Victorian Street Walk with people who lived in the town. Usually, she stayed behind at the North Pole, working behind the scenes, helping the elves get everything ready for Christmas Eve. That’s when the reindeer would guide a heavy-laden sleigh across the dark sky, stopping at every single child’s home, leaving the magic of a gaily wrapped gift under the tree.
This particular year, Mrs. Claus wanted a very special gift for Santa, this man determined to make each child’s wish list come true. She laughed quietly, as she sipped her coffee. “I could not send the elves to get his present, they’re horrible at keeping secrets! I knew I’d have to go myself. “She decided that Saratoga might be the best place to get his present.
When Mrs. Claus stepped out of the sleigh, seeing the old fashioned streets for the first time, her skirt got caught on the runner and she remembers hearing the tear of her bustle. “Oh my goodness”, she said to Santa. “I do not have my sewing machine, not even a needle and thread, how will I mend this?”
A passerby told Mr. and Mrs. Claus of a young woman who was making her name as the best seamstress in the area. Michelle Erceg, the proprietor of Best Dressed Windows In Town. Even though she met with people by appointment only, upon hearing of Mrs. Claus’s dilemma, she opened the shop doors and graciously mended the bustle. They chatted over coffee and became fast friends.
Victorian Street Walk
Mrs. Claus fell in love with Saratoga during the first moments of the Victorian Street Walk. She recalled the town folk dressed in Victorian costumes, walking up and down Broadway. She was impressed with the accuracy of period clothing and the decorations on lamp posts and in storefront windows.
“I felt the magic of Christmas, here in Saratoga. I felt the hope in children’s hearts, as they sat on Santa’s lap, and of adults, who helped make that happen.”
“But, Santa’s cottage was not impressive”, she remembered. “Actually, it made me sad. There were no cheerful red and green colors on the doors. Some of the shingles were falling off of the roof.” She closed her eyes and shuddered. “Santa should never sit in a place like that, it was depressing!”
Shortly after their first visit to Saratoga, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus were invited to come every year to help celebrate the holidays with the people of the town. Mrs. Claus had something to say about it. Actually, she had a lot to say about it. “If we are going to do this, Santa, the cottage has to change.” She put her foot down. “Our cottage will have to be a bit bigger, a lot nicer, and it will need to remind me of home.” Santa nodded to each of her demands. He knew she was a neat-nick and a stickler for detail.
A New Cottage for Santa
“I remembered Michelle, how she’d helped me mend my skirt. I knew we had hit it off, so I wrote to ask if she’d help me sew the elves outfits. Excited, she agreed, even after I told her how much work it would be. Each elf had their own style of clothing and I was forever replacing their jingle bells. They’d undoubtedly fall off during the yearly sleigh ride from the North Pole.” Mrs. Claus grinned as I laughed out loud. “She’s been a great help all these years. I love sitting with her. She sews drapes for her clients all around Saratoga, while I put finishing touches on the elves’ outfits, and mend wear and tear on Santa’s.”
“Santa’s new cottage was an exact replica of the playhouse my father had made, when I was a little girl”, Mrs. Claus continued. “I’d excitedly talked to Michelle about it over coffee, during our yearly visit to Saratoga. Eagerly, she’d agreed to help build it with Ed Sakes, a good friend of ours.
All of the building supplies were donated by local businesses and even though I’d given Michelle and Ed a photograph of the cottage, I broke down crying, when it was finished. I felt like my father had surprised me with it all over again! Even the furniture and curtains matched the original. I was in awe, and the magic of Christmas was all around me, as I stepped inside.”
Santa Surprises Mrs. Claus
Still reminiscing, Mrs. Claus showed me a ring that she always wore, yellow gold with a center stone of deep dark brown, surrounded by the brilliance of diamonds. I had never seen anything so gorgeous!
Children often run up to her and look her right in the eye to ask if she was the REAL Mrs. Santa Claus. “I lean down and show them my ring” She stated. “I ask them if they know what it is.” She said that they never, ever did.
So she would take the time to tell them.
“I know you have heard about good little boys and girls, right? If you are good, you get presents. If you are bad, you get coal.” The children that gather around her nod and listen in rapt attention.
“Well, at a mountain at the North Pole the elves dig all year, with pick axes and shovels for pieces of big black coal to put in Santa’s sack for any children who misbehave.
An Elf’s Find
One day, a long time ago, the oldest elf dug a piece of rock out of the side of the mountain and thought that it looked different than all of the others. A deep, rich brown color, not the usual black of coal. He quickly brought it back to Santa’s workshop.”
“What happened? What was it? Was it special?”
“Well, Santa took one look at it and told the elves that it was super special! A chocolate diamond! He told them that he was going to clean it up, have it cut to make each facet perfect so it would sparkle brightly, then surround it with the fire of white diamonds. Santa said he would surprise me with it on Christmas morning.”
“This is THAT ring? It’s a chocolate diamond? You ARE the real Mrs. Santa Claus?” All of these questions from little faces peering up at her.
“Yes, children. This is THAT ring. It IS a chocolate diamond. It was my MOST special gift from Santa. So, if you ever wonder if someone is the real Mrs. Santa Claus, look for this ring. Remember the story of the North Pole Diamond. You’ll never have to wonder again.”
The Magic of Christmas Giving
Mrs. Santa Claus said she had one more story to share. Her eyes misted over as she spoke, remembering a past Christmas, Victorian Street Walk, and a little girl’s gift that had melted her heart.
“There used to be a shop here in town, Saratoga Beadwork. One day I walked in, to a young girl working with her mother, making necklaces in cheerful colors and patterns of little beads. Her jaw dropped when she saw me and we talked for a few minutes. She gave me a message to take back to Santa and gave me a big hug when I got ready to leave with my purchases.” Mrs. Claus took a sip of her coffee, sighing deeply before she began to talk again.
“Her mom told me, much later, that when I walked out of the shop her daughter smiled, declaring that she’d make me a necklace and present it to me at next year’s Street Walk.”
I watched, as her eyes looked off in the distance, as if she was back on Broadway, celebrating the season with Santa and his elves.
“You have to understand, there were a lot less people back then at the Street Walk. Maybe, two or three thousand? Today, there are more than fifteen thousand who attend this most special occasion. But three thousand people, and I was only one of them! It must have been near impossible, to spot me in the crowd. While I was standing on the street, talking to a wonderful young family about Christmas and what it meant to them, I heard someone yelling at the top of their lungs! They were yelling my name.”
Mrs. Claus paused a moment to wipe her eyes. I didn’t say a word, I wanted her to finish the memory.
A Special Gift Made with Love
“I scanned the crowd and saw the little girl from the bead shop! She was running at me, people moving around her, leaving a clear path. She hit me like a ton of bricks, arms hugging me tightly, her face buried in my cape.”
My own eyes were watering now, spilling over with the emotion I was feeling. I let tears run down my cheeks, brushing them away with the back of my hand.
“She reached up to me, holding out a wrapped package tied with ribbon. She said that she’d made me something extra special. I unwrapped a necklace, made of red and green patterned beads. I could picture her little hands, stringing the beads with so much love.”
Mrs.Claus smiled at me. “She’s all grown up now, but I wear it every year under my sweater. I call it my ‘Allison Necklace’.” We both cried a little, laughing through our tears.
Making Christmas Memories at Victorian Street Walk
There’s no better time than Christmas, no better feeling than the pure hope and child-like belief in this holiday. The gift in giving, the belief in something bigger than ourselves, and the promise of a better tomorrow, is magical.
Celebrating Christmas in Saratoga, sharing the Victorian Street Walk with thousands of other people who also believe – well, there’s nothing better than that, either. Victorian Street Walk is always the 1st Thursday after Thanksgiving. Broadway closes to traffic at 5pm. If you are coming, arrive early, in order to find parking.
Many restaurants on the main drag have window seating. It’s a great way to people-watch while relaxing over drinks and dinner.
Bring the family to Victorian Street Walk. Everyone will enjoy the live reindeer, listening to the carolers that wander the street, and the magic in Santa’s arrival. Make Christmas Memories with this one-of-a-kind experience that you’re sure to repeat.