Children get early visit from Santa

By Helena Rodriguez: PNT staff writer

Santa Claus arrived early for some children Tuesday night as jolly old Saint Nick and his helpers took gifts and surprised 180 local children whose names were placed on the Mayor’s Christmas Tree.

The Mayor’s Christmas Tree, now in its 22nd year, is an annual project designed to help children whose families are facing a tough time during the holiday season. Local people agree to sponsor children by taking their names, which are placed on a tree at Portales City Hall. They then buy the children two gifts, a toy and a clothing item. This year, families also received a turkey.

At the David Viera home, Santa Claus (a.k.a. Don Criss) was met with hugs from Jacob and DJ Viera when he presented them with an armful of colorfully wrapped gifts, including an Air Hogs game for DJ.

“I don’t know how they got our names, but I say thanks for everything and Merry Christmas. You can see the joy in my kids’ eyes,” said David Viera as he watched his five boys and one daughter tear apart their gift packages early.

Viera, who works at Wal-Mart and whose wife, Lupe, is a housewife, said they live on a budget, like many families, and were only planning on giving their children some necessary articles of clothing for Christmas. The Viera’s children range in ages from 1 to 10 years old.

Don Criss has played Santa Claus for the more than two decades that the Mayor’s Christmas Tree has been held. He was one of three Santa Clauses and several elves who packed trucks and cars to make the special deliveries on Tuesday night.

Throughout the years, Criss has witnessed the eyes of many children fill with excitement as the unannounced, special deliveries are made by volunteers each Christmas season.

“Over the years, the reactions have just been wonderful. The families are very grateful. At a lot of places where we go, the children want to give you a hug, and when you look at the circumstances where they are living, you know they need help,” Criss said. Criss said that his now-grown, daughter, Lisa, would accompany him on the special runs when she was young, saying, “I wanted her to see that not everybody gets everything they want for Christmas.”

As for the Viera children, however, they appeared to be satisfied with the special gifts they otherwise would not have received this holiday season.