Pawling’s Rock Hill Santa

On Christmas Eve, Pawling residents may have been surprised to hear the sound of sleigh bells and the clopping of hooves filling the brisk winter air. However, the commotion did not signal the early arrival of Santa Claus, but rather a group of charitable individuals embarking on the third annual “Surprise Present Run.” The little known, generous endeavor saw two wagons pulled by teams of Belgian Draft Horses ride throughout the streets of Pawling, delivering presents and spreading holiday cheer.

The idea for the Surprise Present Run was conceived three years ago by Pawling resident Danny Blumberg, whose family owns Rock Hill Farm located on River Road. In addition to using the farm’s animals for numerous charitable and therapeutic events, Blumberg sought a way to bring joy to the Pawling community for Christmas. “In the years since I came up with this idea, it’s really taken off,” Blumberg said. “Every year I have collected more than three hundred presents from friends, clients, co-workers, and family. I ask them to donate one wrapped present, for any age group. Then we load up the wagon, and go through Pawling giving presents to every car, house, and person that we see. The first year was a huge hit, and the second year people had presents ready to give to us.”

This year, a forecast of inclement weather forced the ride to be moved to Christmas Eve instead of on Christmas morning. The rescheduling did little to dampen the spirits of those involved, and the team assembled on Christmas Eve morning at Rock Hill Farm to prepare for the ride. Joining the cause were Danny’s father, John Blumberg, mother DeeAnn, brother Nick, and sister Jess, as well as several other friends and family who helped tend the horses and sort and distribute presents.

With the Blumberg family supplying the heart, it would fall to the teams of Belgian Draft Horses to supply the muscle. The enormous animals each weigh more than 2,000 pounds, and stand over six feet high. In teams of two, the horses were harnessed, adorned with classic sleigh bells, and were charged with pulling the wagons throughout Pawling. Danny Blumberg drove the present wagon, with horses Bill and Bob, while the team of Mike and Tony followed with a second wagon of volunteers driven by John Blumberg, appropriately dressed as Santa.

The two wagons departed from Rock Hill Farm on a mission to deliver the more than 300 presents that had been donated throughout December. The volunteers made good on Danny Blumberg’s idea to deliver a gift to anyone they encountered. As residents were drawn outside to view the magnificent horses, many were surprised to also receive a Christmas present. Even passing motorists who stopped to snap a picture were given a gift as the wagon caravan drove by. Eventually, the procession would make its way through the center of town, drawing patrons out from the businesses.

The Blumbergs and their team of volunteers rode through Pawling for nearly three hours, covering almost ten miles in frigid, twenty-degree temperatures. In the end, more than 300 gifts were distributed to residents of all ages. The team even delivered a gift to a young girl celebrating Christmas in America for the very first time. “Making other people feel special is what we love to do!” said DeeAnn Blumberg. “Seeing the smiles on random peoples faces and hearing their laughter when handed a wrapped gift is what makes this horse drawn Christmas wagon ride so much fun.”

An event like the Surprise Present Run is the embodiment of what the holiday season represents. The efforts of the Blumbergs, their friends and family, and the countless donors who contributed presents prove that the Christmas spirit is truly alive and well. When asked why he embarks on this journey each year, Danny Blumberg’s answer was simple: “There’s zero reason behind it. It’s just about making Christmas better for everyone.”

Jessica Blumberg, who ran and delivered many of the presents, summarized the events of the day this way: “The whole experience embodies the true meaning of Christmas, which unfortunately often gets lost in translation. The donation of gifts leaves the heart of the donor warm; the gift of being able to hand a recipient the present is a blessing, and receiving a gift for young and old is magical. The workflow of this project at every point is whole hearted and authentic.”