JANESVILLE

In a recent poll of Christmas Day diners, Santa did very well.

Jesus did as well or even better, and we weren’t even asking about him.

On Monday, more than 400 people partook in ECHO’s community Christmas meal at St. William Catholic School in Janesville. More than 100 volunteers served as waiters, bus boys and girls, beverage servers, home delivery drivers, pie cutters, and food servers. About 10 current or former Blackhawk Technical College culinary arts students prepared the food.

The meal seemed like a good place to judge the status of old St. Nick (aka Santa, the big Claus, Father Christmas or other aliases). Did people—even old ones—still believe?

Bill Stevens has been playing guitar at the ECHO Christmas dinner for “20-some” years.

Does he believe in Santa?

“What kind of question is that?” Stevens wanted to know. “I believe in the Santa who comes here. I play music for him all the time.”

Then he added, “But I believe that Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Bonnie Stevens seconded that thought.

The Stevenses opened their set with “Here Comes Santa Claus,” a song that got the volunteers scooping out stuffing, veggies and mashed potatoes to dance behind their chafing dishes.

Later, diners would hear more traditional holiday favorites featuring the Christ child.

Sean Meicher, 8, spoke eloquently about his belief in Santa.

When asked why he believes, Meicher said, “Because he brings us presents.”

Meicher understood Christmas wasn’t just about presents.

“It’s Jesus’ birthday!” Meicher exclaimed.

Margaret Mannion, 3, was volunteering with her mother, Theresa Mannion.

Margaret, who was sporting mouse shoes and a dress with a super puffy skirt, was helping her mother deliver cartons of milk to guests.

This was Margaret’s first year volunteering. She would have been too young to stay on task, her mother said.

Before coming to help at the meal, she was allowed to open one—and only one—present.

It was a baby doll that performs life-like functions when you give her water to drink (we’ll just leave it at that).

Margaret certainly believes in Santa, and although she didn’t specifically address any other beliefs, she seemed to understand it is important to help others.

In the end, The Gazette’s wildly unscientific pool showed 9 out of 10 people believed in Santa, with the 10th unwilling to publicly share her beliefs.

Most surveyed mentioned the true meaning of Christmas, and still others ignored the question altogether and talked instead about their family, their friends and their faith.

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