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Santa Float Wraps Up Its Biggest Year Yet

Dec 17, 2023 11:15PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Can you find Santa in this picture? The Manhattan Beach Santa Float isn't just for kids anymore, as this group of neighborhood friends showed on Friday night.

If you're in Manhattan Beach in December and you see block parties, crowds of kids and dogs, snow machines, babies in pajamas, adults in holiday costumes, drinks flowing freely, or even a petting zoo... It must be the night that the Santa float comes to the neighborhood.

The Manhattan Beach Santa Float, a local tradition dating back to 1955, rolls up and down the streets of Manhattan Beach for three weeks every December, bringing treats, good cheer, and photo ops with Santa. Santa and his elves wait patiently on each block as children and adults (and their dogs!) line up to get their (free) picture taken, share their holiday wishes, and get a candy cane.

(A gaggle of toddlers, kids, and parents crowd together for a photo with Santa)

It's a massive operation that relies on teams of volunteers and coordinators. And it's such a beloved tradition that many neighborhoods have since turned "Santa float night" into the biggest block party of the year.

This year, according to Head Elf Steve Carvel, might have been the most popular year yet. While no one counts the exact number of people that came to meet the float, the number of candy canes handed out is one good barometer. In the past three weeks, Santa and his elves handed out more than 4,000 candy canes (a whopping 4,047 to be exact).

In 2023, Each Night Was Big

During the 2023 run, Santa and his crew saw multiple block parties on each of their nightly rounds, including a full-on petting zoo at one of the gatherings, and of course plenty of impromptu cookie and beverage stands.

(Santa's Elf Stan Horowitz visits a kid-run hot cocoa and cookie stand.)

Each night, a different community group joins in as elves. On this past Friday night, a number of elves couldn't make it so Carvel had to turn to his "A-list backup elves," a group of moms from Pacific.

(The "Pacific Mom" elves with Santa)

These deeply committed elves (Annie Hendrickson, Janet Wein, Kenia Khavar, and Yurika Harris) jumped into action, arriving in head-to-toe elf costumes and sparkly holiday makeup. They deftly helped manage the crowds, and coached kids, both big and small, into smiling for the camera.

(Santa's elf Kenia Khavar manages phone photography from the "roof" of Santa's sleigh.)

Friday night's crew met a giant St. Bernard Doodle named Moose, a trio of tweens wearing Santa hats, a massive block party with possibly more adults than kids, and a few tearful toddlers who were quickly cheered up by candy canes.

(Moose the dog meets Santa)

Does the float run into mishaps? Well, there are those people who park their cars in the posted temporary "no parking" zones, making it nearly impossible for the float to fit down the street. (If you're one of those people, let this be your warning that coal is going in your stocking.)

Friday night when a few elves stopped off at a local house for a bathroom break, the float left without them...resulting in scramble to find all the elves and make sure they got to the next spot. ("We're sending everyone back to elf school," Head Elf Carvel declared jokingly afterwards.)

The team also runs a "Santa tracker," which allows families to check in online to see where Santa is along his route on any given night. But that means that the person operating the Santa tracker from his or her phone has to remember to turn it off when the rounds are done.

A few years back, said Carvel, the person in charge of holding the Santa tracker forgot to turn it off and then went home and took the dogs for a walk - much to the surprise of anyone who was still tracking Santa that night.

Float Runs on Volunteer Goodwill and Donations

Throughout the years, the float has passed back and forth between the Soroptomists of Manhattan Beach, the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the Kiwanis Club.  For a while it was a joint effort between Soroptomists and Kiwanis, until it was fully turned over to the Kiwanis Club in 2015.

In 2017, Carvel, who was also part of the Leadership Manhattan Beach class that year, brought up the idea of refurbishing the falling-apart float as the group's class project. The Leadership Manhattan Beach group agreed, and went on to raise $76,000 to completely overhaul the float and build it a permanent shed, where it is kept in the city storage yard.

(Elves Stan Horowitz and Steve Carvel were both members of the Leadership Manhattan Beach Class of 2017.)


The Kiwanis Club also worked with the Manhattan Beach Unified School District in 2018 to assess how to map out the routes so as to reach the most young children. (The routes may be updated next year to reflect new pockets of kids and families.)

Most people assume that the float is run by the city, but it is an all-volunteer operation. The Santa Float accepts donations and sponsors all year long, and also accepts Venmo contributions at @Richard-Block-1 (Rick Block is the Kiwanis Club's treasurer).

If you missed the Santa float in your neighborhood this year, there's always next year: The float traditionally runs for 15 nights (Monday-Friday for three weeks), starting on the first Monday after Thanksgiving.

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