Sharpsburg Pike Santa shares joy with passersby

December 23, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories running on the 12 days before Christmas to recognize individuals and groups who make the holidays better for others.

Even freezing rain couldn't dampen the excitement 6-year-old Shawn Dixon felt running up the Sharpsburg Pike driveway for a quick visit with Santa and his helpers.

Shawn, who lives in Williamsport, returned to the car with his arms full with an orange, a candy cane and a gift-wrapped coloring book.


"He remembered. He wanted me to take him to the Santa Claus house," said his grandmother, Karen Dixon, 44, of Sharpsburg.

The Santa Claus house is the 5616 Sharpsburg Pike home of Eldon and Shirley Eichelberger.

For four holiday seasons, the couple has dressed up as Santa Claus and one of his holiday friends to spread holiday joy and give away goodies to those who stop by.

"We get a lot out of it. I know that sounds corny, but we actually do," said Eldon Eichelberger, 54.

The couple usually starts on the Saturday night of the luminaires at Antietam National Battlefield and continues on Friday and Saturday nights from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. until Christmas.

One night, a little girl approached Eichelberger in his Santa suit and gave him a bag of cookies and candy for all the times he and his wife had given out treats, Eichelberger said.

The couple buys coloring books and candy canes for children and oranges for adults.

"If you're fortunate enough to get by, you give something back to the community," Eldon Eichelberger said.

Eichelberger is a United Auto Workers official at Mack Trucks, whose employees hold an annual Christmas party for children and donate toiletries to veterans.

Eichelberger cherishes the reactions he gets when the kids see Santa.

A 1-year-old boy was sitting in a car seat when Eichelberger, dressed as Santa, walked over and peered through the window.

"His little eyes and mouth got really round. He was the cutest thing."

The holiday tradition is a product of Eichelberger's warped sense of humor.

"Sometimes I say strange things to see what kind of response I get from my wife," he said.

Three years ago, the couple was sitting at home on Christmas Eve. Back then, as now, Eichelberger would dress up as Santa and visit Sharpsburg Elementary School.

"I said, jokingly, 'I should just put on a Santa outfit and traumatize the little kids and walk around the yard,'" Eichelberger recounted.

The Eichelbergers have been joined by friends and family, who dress up as characters including an elf and the Grinch.

While Eldon Eichelberger's sister, Lou Ann Eichelberger, wears the Mrs. Claus costume, his wife, Shirley, chooses to wear the Rudolph or Snowwoman costumes.

Earlier this month, a little girl was too intimidated to approach Santa, but she went right up to the Snowwoman and gave her a hug, Shirley Eichelberger said.

The Eichelbergers were nominated to be Christmas Angels by Lou Ann Eichelberger because they do this every year and "it's just such fun."

"Hopefully, more people come," she said. "The kids light up and the old people like it."

Tomorrow: Larry Gerber, Hancock Lions Club

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