Familiar Christmas characters greeted kids as they arrived at the Vikings Christmas party.

By Raiza Giorgi

Santa Ynez Valley Star


Frosty the Snowman, The Grinch, a Christmas elf and other holiday characters greeted hundreds of kids as they streamed into the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott for the annual Vikings of Solvang Christmas Party.

This year was the 43rd annual party for special-needs children in Santa Barbara County.

“This is such a fun event and a great way for social recreation for our kids. It’s a fun way to get them all together and celebrate the holidays,” said Mariana Murillo, who escorted her son Oscar Lopez, 19, of Cabrillo High School.

More than 600 students attended, and Vikings Chief Mike Peterson said that he and other Vikings look forward to the joyful event every year.

“We want to honor these kids and their caregivers. They are all amazing in our minds,” Peterson said.

The Vikings of Solvang are well known to most Valley residents for riding on their imposing Viking ship in local parades, but the magnanimous group’s community contributions are as robust as their Nordic namesakes.

“This event really starts the Christmas holiday for most of us Vikings. Seeing their faces and making this event special each year for them is what it’s all about,” said Viking Jim Cassidy, chairman of the event committee.

Cassidy said about 80 percent of the Viking membership showed up to help out by greeting children, guiding them to tables, serving meals, decorating, setting up, and tearing down.

The most important job is the role of Santa Claus, and Viking Dan Cassara said he is honored to do that work.

Dan Cassara, pictured with his wife Bridget, said he is honored not only to be a member of the Vikings but also to play Santa Claus at their annual Christmas Party for special-needs kids.

“This event is so special, and I get to help make them smile. That’s the best gift of all,” Cassara said.

Each guest left the party with a full stomach and a bucket of cookies from Olsen’s Bakery, and each of the 58 teachers in attendance were given a gift certificate as well for use in their classroom,.

The Vikings are a men’s social and philanthropic organization dedicated to filling unfunded, medically related needs of individuals and families in Santa Barbara County. Members remain steadfast in their mission to provide county residents with a better quality of life through paying medical expenses, assisting in patient advocacy, and hosting events to serve meals to senior citizens throughout the year.

The Vikings have contributed more than $2.7 million since their inception in 1974 through donations to their endowment fund, their own contributions, and the occasional need-based fundraiser.

For more information, log onto www.vikingcharitiesinc.com.