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Santa’s Float Fanatic

For Abbotsford’s Alan Shabott, Santa’s arrival in Westchase each December is a tradition not to be missed.

In the week leading up to Dec. 9, Shabott, a 20-year Westchase resident, will pull out his hammer and tacks again.

But he’s not an elf working in Santa’s workshop.

Instead, he’ll construct another Abbotsford float that will travel the nearly six hour parade behind Santa.

Santa’s Pre-Flight Parade was the brainstorm of former Abbotsford resident Dan O’Brien. O’Brien, along with his son Brandon, still organize the parade each year with Abbotsford resident Ralph Caputo for the Westchase Charitable Foundation (WCF).

Way back in the parade’s early years, the duo roped Shabott and other Abbotsford neighbors, into helping to build a neighborhood parade float.

And while many of the original builders have moved away or have turned their attention elsewhere, Abbotsford has been represented every year in the parade since. “I started helping with their float and then went off on my own to doing the float,” Shabott said. “Each year I still have Abbotsford on it.”

Shabott’s talents have grown with experience. The first Abbotsford float, he recalled, consisted of a Santa workshop/Gingerbread Home theme surrounded by a picket fence. It was raised on a trailer rented from U-Haul. And the neighbors simply lifted the house onto the float from someone’s garage.

There have been so many float themes, he has trouble keeping them straight. “This past year was the Grinch float and the year before was the Baby Jesus crib or the Minions castle.”

He added, “This next year I’ll probably do Grinch another time.” He paused as if he might change his mind. “We haven’t really nailed that down yet.”

Shabott has some reliable helpers who return annually to help. “Calley Scanlon is my daughter and she helps consistently.”

Her husband Mike also pitches in.

Then there is Joe Gras, a resident of The Bridges. “He’s always a very strong supporter and helper,” Shabott said.

And there’s another friend named Ray and Brian Salek, another Abbotsford resident. “Brian usually helps a lot.”.

The float isn’t just thrown together, however. “It’s usually about a full week. There’s usually a whole lot before that spent prepping.

“The actual building of the float is three to four days,” he said.

Shabott said his crew takes pride in reproducing scenes or objects from the movies accurately. “We really take a lot of time to making sure the size is appropriate. We really try to spend a lot of time and effort to make it look decent.”

He used to rent a U-Haul trailer for the event, but no more. “I went and bought a utility trailer. It gives me a lot more flexibility and time to put it together.”

The trailer alone cost him $1,000.

Each year, between lights, materials and costumes, he estimated he spends about $500.

As the result of his participation over the years, he’s developed an interesting collection. “I have a roomful of costumes people use throughout the year,” he said.

There’s Elmo, a Mickey Mouse and Gingerbread Man; a couple different Rudolphs;  an elaborate dress worn by Princess Elsa and an angry bird and a minion.

The costumes also make appearances in the parade. They’re generally worn by other folks riding in the trucks in the parade.

What keeps him coming back?

“It’s always when you see people and they say, “Wow!” he said. “It’s the expression of the people who can appreciate what you put into it.”

Shabott added that serving as the float driver gives him an advantage. “I usually get a firsthand visual of all those kids when they see and yell out to all those characters. And the adults who yell out, ‘Look, there’s Elmo! Look, there’s Mickey!’ Every year, when I look out, that’s what it’s all about.”

For Shabott, it’s also a work of faith.

“I do try to put a little of my Christianity in it,” he said. Other than the more obvious nativity scene one year, he tries to add a subtle touch to capture his faith. In a corner of the float, for example, he’ll put a cross in gold. “It’s not just about the holidays. It’s about the cross. I still try to put my faith into the work.”

Shabott is looking forward to the culmination of the parade, when Santa lights the tree in West Park Village and all the characters in costume dance with the kids to the DJ’s music. “You get hundreds, just hundreds of the kids up there taking pictures with the characters. Just to see the kids that involved and that excited is always what just does it for me.”

His one Christmas wish?

That everyone takes a little time to get involved in some way to capture the spirit of the holidays.

“There is always room to do something for the Christmas season. You find something and actually do something. You don’t just sit back and watch everyone else do something for society,” he said.

“This is just my little way of doing something.”

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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