Looking back: The tradition of Elks Santas turns 50

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December 22, 1977

Elks Santas A 50-Year-Old Tradition Here

The warm, friendly glow of porch lights shining from homes throughout Ouray City and County on Christmas Eve will serve as a welcoming beacon for the Santa Clauses that will soon appear.

In this tiny mountain community Santa Clauses will make visits in person to children in every home in the city and county and leave gifts of candy, popcorn balls and peanuts. They also will bring similar gifts to the elderly.

This is the fiftieth consecutive year that Ouray Elks Lodge No. 492 has sent out Santa Clauses to visit every home with children on Christmas Eve. Originally, Santas made their visits in horsedrawn sleighs. In recent years they use jeeps or other four-wheel-drive vehicles to be prepared in case of a snowstorm.

Ouray citizens have become familiar with the visits and look forward to them. Santa, in a magnificent red uniform and with flowing white beard (the Lodge has 15) stomps into a home ringing sleigh bells and shouting, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Children react unexpectedly. First-timers may gaze, awe-stricken, dive under a table, or smile happily, as the brown paper bags are handed out.

Ouray is a friendly town. Fathers often Santa a Christmas libation, and Santa is polite and doesn’t want to offend. The drink can be of infinite variety, including beer, wine, whiskey or gin, and the mixture can be disastrous.

It was not uncommon, in the early days, for Santas to fail to return, and Elk search parties occasionally dug one out of a snowdrift. A few years ago one young Santa was relating his experience.

“I’d been offered every drink imaginable,” he said. “And at the end of my run I thought I had made it. My last call was to a nice elderly lady. When she saw me, she exclaimed, “Oh Mr. So-and-So, I’m so glad to see you. I’ve been saving a cup of hot chocolate for you.”

“I managed to get it down, barely got outside when I lost it, got in the jeep, missed the bridge and drove into the Portland Flume. I must have been anesthetized. No injuries. But ever since, a volunteer driver accompanies Santa Claus. The driver stays in the vehicle and receives no drinks. Santa always gets home:”