On the road in St Albans with Santa and friends
IT could be the smell of pine, the stacks of mince pies on supermarket shelves or even the first time you see the holidays are coming Coca-Cola advert on TV. But for me, the first sign of Christmas has always been when Santa and his singing float come
IT could be the smell of pine, the stacks of mince pies on supermarket shelves or even the first time you see the "holidays are coming" Coca-Cola advert on TV.
But for me, the first sign of Christmas has always been when Santa and his singing float come to town.
Ever since the age of about five, my ears would prick up at the sound of the St Albans Round Table Christmas float and, with my elder brother in tow, I would rush out of the house to go and wave to Santa Claus and run alongside his luminous sleigh.
So it was something of a Christmas miracle when, 15 or so years later, I was invited to climb aboard that very same sleigh to help Santa and his team of merry elves on their first round of the year around Napsbury Park in London Colney.
Suited and booted in a red cape and a Christmas hat, I was one of about eight helping hands whose duty it was to knock on doors and collect for the Round Table, who always donate every penny of their Christmas rounds to local St Albans district charities.
As my fellow elf and newest member of the Round Table Gary said, "It's amazing what you can do with an old milk float" and I felt proud to be walking alongside the shiny red sleigh fully equipped with speakers, flashing lights and a larger-than-life Father Christmas (aka long-serving Round Tabler Stuart), who immediately took to the part and was ho-ho-ho-ing for the rest of the night.
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Our trusty sleigh could only reach a top speed of about 10mph (unless you are going down Holywell Hill when it is more like 30mph), and so it took just under three hours to compete the tour.
By the end of it, we had collected both a tidy sum of money and a tail of excited children who faithfully refused to budge from Santa's side.
So many children saw Father Christmas for the first time last night ("I knew he would have a white beard!" I heard one little boy say) and it was also a treat for some of the adults.
One newlywed who had just moved to London Colney from the north told me that she had never seen Santa before - "maybe he's a southerner?" she wondered.
Everybody was generous with their donations and Alan, a self-confessed Round Table "rebel" who once put a Deep Purple track on the float's playlist for a joke, worked out that they could make up to �4 a minute, with the most profitable route being around St Michael's village on Christmas Eve.
It was with weary feet and a heavy collection box that my first Santa float round came to an end.
It was an honour to be one of Santa's elves for the evening, both because it gave me the chance to do my bit for local charities and, what with spending three hours in Santa's company, it didn't half put me in the festive mood.
n Santa's Christmas float could be coming to a road near you soon.
To view the routes online, log on to www.stalbansroundtable.org.uk