'Roving Christmas Tree' returns

Webber family joins Santa on Hayden streets with treats for kids

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Walter Webber, shown here in the Santa Claus outfit, was well-known for adorning his electrical truck with Christmas trees and pine boughs. He would deliver handmade candy and popcorn balls to children in Steamboat Springs on Christmas Eve.

— As a little girl, Cindy Wright would stay up until 11 p.m. every Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus to knock on the door of her parents' Steamboat Springs home.

It wouldn't be until years later that Wright learned that the Santa Claus who came to her home - and every other home in Steamboat - was her grandfather, Walt Webber.

"We'd stay up forever waiting for him, because grandpa would walk the entire town to reach every house. He was the only Santa Claus back then," she said. "We didn't know that it was our grandpa doing it."

For decades, Webber came to symbolize Christmas in Steamboat. He put together his "Roving Christmas Tree" and visited every home on Christmas Eve.

Delighting children and adults for decades, Webber is fondly remembered as the man who topped his electrical truck with a decorated Christmas tree and distributed treats to Steamboat's children.

Webber started the tradition in 1938, and except for a few years during the Great Depression, made the annual Christmas Eve trip without fail.

Now, almost 70 years later, Webber's family has revived the tradition to bring the spirit of their grandfather's generosity and good nature to the residents of Hayden.

Wright, who now calls Hayden home, and her cousin, Alan Webber of Craig, reclaimed the "Roving Christmas Tree" tradition in 2005. Other Hayden groups had took over the tradition for many years, but they weren't able to keep up with Hayden's growing population.

The tradition moved to Hayden during the 1970s, when the Roving Tree outgrew the Webber family, and the tradition was passed on to the Steamboat Springs Lions Club. Until the mid-1980s, the tradition moved to other parts of the county, including Oak Creek, Milner and Hayden. The last organization to handle the Roving Tree was the 4-H Critter Club.

"I think it had just become too much for these other groups because it's quite a commitment to do it," Alan Webber said.

However, it was a commitment the Webber family, which has grown to include aunts, uncles, cousins, wives, husbands and grandchildren, was ready to undertake.

"Christmas was a very important holiday to grandpa," Wright said. "It was his way of taking the love he had for his community and giving back. It is something that we wanted to pass onto our kids."

Although Walt Webber was able to cover Steamboat Springs by himself in the early days, the family has taken an alternate approach to canvassing Hayden.

"We split into two teams now because Hayden has gotten so big," Wright said.

The two groups will begin roving with their Christmas trees at about 5 p.m. tonight and will hit "any house that appears to have life in it," Webber said.

One of the first stops will be to The Haven Assisted Living Center to visit its residents.

Last year's visit was well-received by the residents, who were not expecting the surprise.

"(The residents) loved it because (the family) actually came inside and delivered little goodies to everyone," Assistant Director Elsie Richardson said. "They were just so ecstatic."

Taking the time to spend some time with the residents meant a lot, she said.

"There are a lot of families that don't live here and aren't with their families this time of year, so it's really nice that they came by," she said.

For Wright and Webber, the two most important things about bringing the Roving Christmas Tree back is spending time with their own families and watching the faces of the children when Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus ring the doorbell.

"It just warms your heart when the children say, 'I can't believe Santa came to my house,'" Webber said. "After that, you could go another 15 hours."

Comments

jkhill 7 years, 9 months ago

Thank you for running this article. I too am a grandchild of Walt Webber. My mother is the youngest of the Webber children (Norieta). I grew up with stories of this loving adventure and although we live in Alaska and not able to attend this event, we are very proud of all of our cousins continuing on in Grandpa's spirit. Merry Christmas to everyone. Karen Rule Hill

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