Collin Anderson
Jackie Thomas and Gary Elmer help the children sing loud enough for Santa to hear.

’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the church

(you know, the big one in Panaca; there’s no need to search)

Every creature was stirring, each snug in their seat,

Waiting for Santa to come with his treats.

But there was one problem, as there is every year

While Santa was trying to spread his good cheer,

He couldn’t find Panaca (it is quite small),

And to get the big guy there, they’d have to sing, one and all.

On Dec. 24, the first and second wards of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Panaca put on a holiday show to welcome Santa to town. Everyone was invited to attend, and the community came out in droves. At least two hundred people filled the seats in the church building.

But, as Pete Peterson soon informed the attendees, there was a problem: the cloud cover was making it hard for Santa to find Panaca, and as a result, he would most likely pass over the town. To this end, Peterson and Gary Elmer both came to the conclusion that someone had to dress up like Saint Nick to keep the kids from being disappointed. Unfortunately, there were two problems that came out of their well-meaning decision: first, they never decided who would dress up as Santa, which led to both of them showing up at the program, and second, they had so little time to prepare that their costumes were subpar.

It was then that the two men knew that the jig was up, so they explained the situation to the people, which upset the kids. But over the radio that Elmer had in his possession, Saint Nick’s voice was suddenly heard. He was still trying to find the chapel, despite the clouds, but was having a hard time pinpointing the town. Santa suggested that the kids sing, so he could follow them to the source of the song.

The children rushed to the stage, and with the help of Jackie Thomas as conductor and Calista Anderson on the piano, they belted out a series of classic holiday treasures like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Jingle Bells” to help guide Santa in for a landing. Hope surged through the crowd as Santa declared he was just over Paragonah (just a few hours east of Panaca), but things took a turn for the worse as he found himself flying over Rachel, apparently overshooting his landing. But after merry songs and happy voices, the sound of reindeer hoofbeats was finally heard. The jolly old elf found Panaca at last, and soon he arrived, to the delight of wide-eyed children.

This annual program, which, according to some of the older families in the area, has been around since the late 1800s, usually follows the same pattern of Santa getting lost (you think he’d have Panaca saved in his GPS by now) and then a chorus of kids helping him find his way.