Santa Claus is coming to town – downtown Missoula, that is

It’s that time of year again, when Santas start popping up everywhere you look.

Santa will be at the Florence Hotel in downtown Missoula this Saturday, Dec. 7 starting at 1 p.m., ready and willing to hear children’s gift wishes and pose for photos with them.

But his appearance will be only one of more than 20 family-friendly activities available in downtown Missoula this Saturday, including the 11th annual Parade of Lights. The parade will launch at 6 p.m. from the corner of Fourth and Higgins and head north to the red XXXXs. The Christmas tree lighting is planned for 6:30 p.m. As usual, there will be free coffee, cocoa and cookies! As well as public performances by various groups.

The Missoula Downtown Association sent the following schedule of events and list of sponsors to help you plan a fun winter weekend and express thanks to the appropriate folks for it:

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Santa is real and he has a home in Florence, Montana

By TOM BAUER/Missoulian

By TOM BAUER/Missoulian

My daughter is on to the whole fake Santa thing. She sizes up the various Santas we see around town, in the mall or outside grocery stores, usually, and then turns to me with a knowing look and declares, “That isn’t the REAL Santa Claus.”

She believes they are Santa’s helpers, needed because the real Santa is too busy this time of year to do all the things Santas need to do. Today’s Missoulian story about Santa – AKA Charlie Jerke – explains just what those things are, and gives us a glimpse into why Santa’s helpers like Charlie Jerke can be every bit as magical as the “real” Santa.

– MM

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Missoula has good stuff for kids and community: A free swim, a phone call from Santa and more!

It’s a busy time of year, isn’t it, fellow parents? There are all these special school activities, holiday events and community campaigns. It’s fun, it’s meaningful – and after a while, it’s rather exhausting.

A fun way to take a break with the whole family is to pack up the swimming suits and towels and head on down to Currents. And lucky you, tomorrow – Friday, Dec. 10 – Currents is offering a free swim for all ages in honor of the fact that Missoula has once again been designated a Playful City USA. The free swim is open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

AND, if you bring in a donation of a non-perishable food item for the Missoula Food Bank, you can enter a drawing to win a 10-swim punch card.

(Special note: The e-mail I got from Missoula Parks and Rec about the free swim had this statement in bold – “Kids ages 7 and under must be accompanied in the water by an adult.” I haven’t yet figured out how to add emphasis to statements on this blog, which I why I still use the dreaded ALL CAPS when I would prefer to use italics or boldface type. So just consider that statement bolded, ‘K?)

Know what else Missoula Parks and Rec does that is tons of fun? It runs this program called “Santa’s Calling.” You can sign up to have your child receive a phone call from “Santa” on Wednesday, Dec. 15 between the hours of 5 p.m.-8 p.m.

Click here to download a form. You can also pick one up at Currents, which is also where the form should be turned in – by Dec. 13 at the latest.

Santa’s Calling is completely free, but donations are appreciated. The money goes to fund youth recreation scholarships – yet another very worthy cause.

Next up: If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer, Missoula Parks and Rec says it has the perfect item. It’s the new Parks, Trails and Open Space map! You can download the very large electronic version of the map by clicking here. However, I recommend paying the $4 to get the full-color, high-quality 24×36-inch map in a form you can actually roll up and stuff into a stocking.

Here’s how Missoula Parks and Rec describes it: “The map details all of Missoula’s parks, streets and bicycle/pedestrian routes, PLUS hiking trails on Mount Jumbo, Mount Sentinel, the North Hills and all of Missoula’s other great recreation areas.  No other Missoula map covers both city streets and open space trails.  The information side of the map features a comprehensive map of the Riverfront Trail System, and complete directions to family hikes, visitor tours and even challenging treks to Sentinel and Jumbo’s summits.”

Sounds like a great present, right? If you’d like to buy one, you can do so at Currents, and with the knowledge that 50 cents of each sale will go to fund recreation grants for low-income families.

Last on my list of niceness provided by Missoula Parks and Rec is its teamwork with Families First to offer a parenting program/youth swim special. Parents can get tips from experts while their kids swim. The special part is that if you buy a swim for one kiddo, you get one free.

The next parenting workshop will be held on Jan. 26, so you have plenty of time to find out more. Contact Families First at 721-7690.

– MM

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