By Shawn Kirkpatrick
Opelika Observer

It’s a long way from the North Pole, but Santa, also known as, Hugh Bryan, made a special stop at the Opelika Sportsplex before Christmas, to check his list and shake it twice, before conducting the Rocky Brook Rocket Reindeer Express. This is the first year Bryan is playing Santa for the annual event at Monkey Park.
Bryan said he was first asked to play Santa in the early eighties for a fundraiser at Lee Scott Academy in Auburn. At the time he was a coach and teaching history at the school. He didn’t play the Jolly Old Elf again until many years later.
Bryan retired after teaching for 34 years, but said he soon missed the day to day interaction with his students. The jingle bells soon rang again, and Bryan was asked to play St. Nick for an event for the Chambers County Foster Children group. That was nine years ago, and since then, he’s been listening to children’s dreams and wishes every Christmas season.
“Barbie, Hover Boards, as well as cell phones are some of the top requests this year. I did have a little boy ask for a vacuum cleaner and a little girl asked for a milk cow.” Bryan said with a chuckle.
Bryan said the children’s wishes from the heart are the ones he remembers, like spending time with family, and wanting a mother or father to be happy.
The tradition of playing a Claus is all in the Bryan family. Bryan’s triplet sons Joseph, Joshua and Jeremiah take on the roles of elves for their “Santa” Dad, handing out candy and toys. Mrs. Claus, Nancy, is Hugh’s wife, here and at the North Pole.
As Bryan gets ready to hop back in his sleigh to head home he said, “I always like to remind the kids that the true reason for the season is Jesus’s birth.”
Then, as he sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle and away they all flew like the down of a thistle. I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night… and see you this weekend at the Rocky Brook Rocket Reindeer Express.”
The three-night event, (Dec. 14-16), is hosted by the Opelika Sportsplex and Aquatic Center.
People can have their picture taken with Santa each night from 5 to 8 p.m.
He will be in the gazebo at Monkey Park. For a dollar one can ride the miniature train through thousands of lights and then warm up with a cup of hot chocolate, and munch on hot dogs and hamburgers.