'Santa Float' keeps 65-year-old tradition alive

Neenah-Menasha Santa Float on December 4, 2017 (WLUK/David Duchan)

MENASHA (WLUK) -- Santa Claus is coming to town -- early, at least in Menasha and Neenah.

That's thanks to the fire department's Santa Float. He's already been in some parades, but he's been part of this Santa Float for 65 years.

It might not be Christmas yet, but Santa Claus has already paid a visit to Menasha.

"The firefighters of Neenah-Menasha are taking me around the town to visit the boys and girls before Christmas comes!" old Saint Nick told FOX 11 News.

"We do many things in the community throughout the year, but this is definitely our favorite one," added Jamie Leonard of Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue.

The department set out with its Santa Float Monday evening.

The tradition started in 1952 when the Menasha fire chief brought Santa to visit sick children in the city.

Now firefighters drive Santa through different Neenah and Menasha neighborhoods over 10 nights in December.

"We get people in the windows, out on the street. Tonight with the warm weather we hope we get a lot of people out there. It's great to see them out! They're smiling, they're waving at Santa," Leonard told us.

"I love to see all the smiling faces and the happiness that it brings to everyone!" Santa added.

As the years have passed, the communities have grown. So the float can't make it to every home in Neenah and Menasha over the ten nights it goes out.

"It's difficult to get every street every night. So we've kind of split up, every other year we kind of split up the route a little bit," Leonard explained.

But when residents get to see the float, they definitely appreciate it.

"This is a newer neighborhood, this is the first year for him to come down here for us. So it's exciting! It was nice to see everybody lined up!" exclaimed Denise Kilburg.

"We hear from a lot of elderly people as well, the remember it throughout the years. So, yeah, it's a time-honored tradition and we hear it from the community," Leonard told us, a tradition the department plans to keep for Christmases to come.

The Santa Float stays afloat thanks to donations.

You can check out the rest of the routes the float will travel over the next two weeks here.

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