With painted faces and hopeful hearts, children crowded under massive evergreens at Pixie Woods for a chance to sit on Santa's lap Saturday afternoon.
Typically such a tradition is reserved for malls packed with last-minute shoppers during the holiday season, but the midsummer event is an annual occurrence at Stockton's miniature world of make-believe. "Christmas in July" offers children a chance to greet the jolly man and receive gifts from his elves in between trips up and down slides and through fun houses scattered throughout the park. It also provides their innocence with shelter from Stockton's harsh realities.
The boys and girls aren't burdened with knowledge of the city's skyrocketing homicide rate or fiscal insolvency; they just get to be children.
Gabriel Tapia, 4, smiled widely and proudly showed off the spider and web painted onto his face Saturday. The child asked Santa for a Pillow Pet Dream Light, an illuminated toy in the shape of an animal that doubles as a cushion to sleep on. His sisters Natalia, 8; Noelia, 7; and Nailea, 3; all asked for the same.
Their mother, Maria Villalobos, said they attend "Christmas in July" annually and are season members at Pixie Woods.
"It's a safe and secure place and it helps us preserve their childhood," said Villalobos. "We don't want them to hear the labels everyone across the nation about it being the most miserable place to live. One day they will grow up and say to those people, 'I got to see another side.' "