Tree on the move

Roving Christmas Tree to mark 70th year with deliveries in Hayden

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Hayden residents who want to make sure they get a visit from the Roving Christmas Tree may call Cindy Wright before 5 p.m. Wednesday, at 970-276-4446.

— As far as his family can figure, Walt Webber started the Roving Christmas Tree in Steamboat Springs 70 years ago this year.

The tradition has bounced from one group to another in the decades since, sometimes stopping entirely. Webber's descendents took it over again in Hayden four years ago, his granddaughter Cindy Wright said. They plan to continue the Christmas Eve tradition this year, sending two trailers through Hayden, carrying Santa Claus from house to house to give candy to children.

"We drive every street in town that we can get to," Wright said. "There's a few dead ends we can't go up, but Santa will go up if there's a porch light (on)."

The routes start at 5 p.m. at The Haven Assisted Living Center, and the family will deliver until 9 or 9:30, Wright said. Webber's kin in Hayden decorate one trailer and tree, and other family members will bring a vehicle from Craig.

Helen Duncan, Webber's daughter, lives in Craig. She remembers helping her father, an electrician who drove his sound truck to Winter Carnival, rodeos and other Steamboat events. He started the holiday tradition on Christmas Eve 1938, delivering sweets to children and playing Christmas carols, Duncan said.

The family decorated the paneled van with pine boughs, lights and a "Merry Christmas" sign, she said.

"He had the phonograph in the front, and they played Christmas music and roamed the streets of Steamboat," she said. "It started out with just the popcorn balls and our family doing it. I don't know how many years it was that way."

The Lions Club took it over, she said. The Kiwanis and Rotary clubs also handled the tree at various times, Wright said. People who moved from Steamboat to Hayden remember the Roving Christmas Tree as a staple of their childhood, she said.

Others recall it too, Duncan said. The tree made its way across Routt County.

"They used to take the tree and go to Hayden one night and drive the streets of Hayden, and they'd take it one night and drive the streets of Oak Creek," Duncan said. "It was just a big thing for all of us, and we enjoyed it. People remember it. Whenever I see anyone around Steamboat, they always remember daddy's roaming tree. It's just the way the family's remembered."

Walt and Gertrude Webber had six children, Duncan said. The families are sprinkled across the country, but everyone still helps with the Christmas tradition, Wright said.

"We have family that help with the expenses in California, Alabama and Alaska," she said.

The family gives out about 300 bags with candy, a popcorn ball and a candy cane, Wright said. Children are welcome to come to the trailers to get their candy, and people who want a visit from Santa should leave their outside lights on.

The event is special for children, and it always has been special for the family, Duncan said. Walt Webber's father was a Methodist minister, she said, and Christmas always meant a lot to him.

She recalled one year, 1951 or '52, that was particularly meaningful. Duncan's brother Chuck and sister Eloise were visiting from out of town, and all of the children were home for Christmas with their children. A popular Christmas song that year was about Willy Claus, the son of Santa Claus, who delivered the gifts because Santa had a cold.

The family mimicked that on the Roving Christmas Tree.

"Chuck dressed up as an extra Santa and went along with daddy," Duncan said, "and that was kind of a special year. : I think that was the last time we were all here at Christmas together."

This year, Duncan said, she plans to go to Hayden for an early dinner before the younger family members set out with the trees and candy. Four generations will participate, Wright said.

"It's a way of helping our kids understand giving to the community," she said. "And we just love doing it. It was a huge part of our childhood, so we just want to contribute."

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