A horde of Santas — big and small, young and old — will be converging on the courthouse square in downtown Clinton on Tuesday in what has become an annual holiday tradition.
Deemed “Operation Santa Hat,” the festive event is a mini-reunion and an opportunity to catch up with those who return to Sampson County for the holidays, organizer Steve Boyette said. Along with socializing, participants don red and white Santa hats and pose for a group photo, even singing a Christmas selection or two with some impromptu musical accompaniment.
The third annual Operation Santa Hat will be held at 7:30 p.m. this Tuesday, Dec 26, at Santa’s house on the courthouse square in Clinton. There’s no rain in weather forecast and the organizers are hoping for a large turnout.
Something as simple as donning a Santa hat and gathering with others can do wonders for someone’s Christmas spirit, Boyette attested, and that’s the whole idea.
The event was the brainchild of Boyette, who sold his idea of a group photograph of attendees wearing Santa hats as a lure to bring former schoolmates together in Clinton for the brief reunion during the Christmas holidays. The first Santa hat event took place on the courthouse square the day after Christmas two years ago, and Boyette promised it would not be the last.
“It’s fun to see how many long lost friends might attend, and it’s fun to catch up,” he said. “It’s also fun to see how many kids attend and watch them enjoy themselves in a festive atmosphere. The event originally stems from a large group of friends who attended various school throughout Sampson County, but it’s open to everyone.”
Boyette said it is a child-friendly event and encouraged everyone to bring the children and grandchildren.
“My buddy David Thomas Tew, from Turkey, is an excellent musician and he’s bringing his guitar for an old-fashioned singalong,” Boyette continued. “We’re hoping to attract a large number of kids and grandkids to help David sing ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.’”
Nearly 40 people attended the inaugural event in 2015 and, due to the relatively large turnout for a first-time event, it was judged by participants as a big success, with all in favor of making it a yearly occurrence. Most people, he said, smile at the notion of participating in a large group photo session where everyone’s wearing a Santa hat.
“They enjoy visiting with old friends — and making new friends — in a festive atmosphere,” Boyette attested.
There were 35 people who attended in 2015. Another 31 showed up last year, a number that likely would have been greater if not for a winter cold making the rounds.
It might seem like an eccentric idea, but Boyette is a man whose passions run the gamut.
He enjoys helping others, working part-time for a local company transporting patients to their medical appointments, while also managing a local private charity. He is also well-known as an expert of paranormal investigation and a local history enthusiast. He created the Clinton-Sampson County Local History Facebook group that includes more than 2,000 members.
A local history buff, he spearheaded a short-lived effort earlier this year to save local mainstay Lewis’ Barbecue when it was closed amid financial woes. Even though it did not come to fruition, he said it was about helping a neighbor and preserving a local landmark, even if it was someone he didn’t know. That is the spirit with which he has organized the annual Santa Hat endeavor.
It’s about bringing people together in fellowship, and lifting their spirits, even if he doesn’t personally know them.
Boyette knows that not everyone feels joyous at this time of year, but hopes maybe participating in Operation Santa Hat could ease those feelings. Last year, attendees came from all around.
“We had one former Clintonian attend our event who traveled 1,715 miles from Colorado to Clinton, and another who traveled 1,593 miles from North Dakota,” Boyette stated. “We had two ladies confined to wheelchairs who were determined to attend. One lives in Clinton and the other traveled from Greenville (N.C.).”
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