It was quite the spectacle in Dupo, East Carondelet and Prairie du Pont last Sunday.
About 10 police cars, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles roared down neighborhood streets with lights flashing and sirens blaring.
The purpose became clear with the last vehicle, a black truck pulling a trailer carrying an antique sleigh. Santa and Mrs. Claus waved to people in yards, and elves threw candy to kids.
"It was quick, but it was cute," said Gina Norman, 40, of Millstadt, who watched from a street corner with her mother, Brenda McClary, of Dupo, and 2-year-old granddaughter, Lily Palmer.
The second-annual Dupo Santa Claus Parade lasted about two hours. There were no floats or marching bands, only Santa and his entourage being escorted around town.
"We don't have a set route," said Dupo Fire Chief Kurt Johnson. "We just go wherever we want."
The parade was the brainchild of Bill Carlile, 62, of East Carondelet, a father of four and grandfather of five. He has been playing Santa for more than 25 years.
Bill has gone to nursing homes, hospitals, schools, businesses, VFW halls and Christmas parties, often donating his time for charitable causes.
He sees it as a way to brighten the lives of children, particularly those who come from poor families.
"When I was growing up, we didn't have many Christmases," Bill said. "It was a little rough. The preacher used to come by the house and bring us groceries, and that was our Christmas."
Bill has been known to visit children in wheelchairs at home. He passes out business cards with his street and email addresses, invites kids to write letters and answers them on Santa stationery.
Most want the usual dolls and toys, but "I've had them ask me for cars or for their dads to come home from overseas," he said.
In the Dupo parade, Bill wore one of his three red velvet suits trimmed in white fur. His wife, Sue, played Mrs. Claus in a poinsettia-patterned skirt, green apron and bonnet.
Two stuffed reindeer flanked the sleigh, which Bill borrowed from funeral director Frank Braun. His Pomeranian, Holly, was decked out in a holiday sweater.
"Every once in a while, she'd bark out like she was saying, 'Merry Christmas!" Bill said. "We really wore her out, but she enjoyed it."
The elf squad was led by Tonya Davidson, 47, of Dupo, a family friend who has been volunteering about 13 years.
She wears a green outfit made from a Christmas tree skirt and curly-toed shoes with bells. Her reward is seeing children's faces light up.
"Bill and Sue are fun to work with," Tonya said. "They're jolly people."
Bill is an Army veteran who served in Vietnam and Korea. He worked as a St. Clair County deputy sheriff for about 10 years and security supervisor at Big River Zinc Corp. in Sauget until it closed in 2006.
Today, Bill is senior vice commander of Dupo VFW Post 6368, but it's his role as Santa that brings him the most joy.
"He works on it like six months out of the year," said Sue, 59, a laborer at a St. Louis chemical plant. "There isn't a kid in Dupo who doesn't know who he is."
Bill became a Santa in 1985 on a dare from his friend and fishing buddy, Vernon Scott Kemp, who wanted to promote his new business, Scott's Bar, in Dupo.
"I went over to a place called Gibbol's -- it was down on (Laclede's) Landing -- and I rented an outfit," Bill said. "It cost me about 40 bucks for one night. Scotty went out and bought some bicycles, and we gave them away."
Bill was ready to leave the bar when a woman sat on his lap and asked if he would visit her sick son in St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville, which he did.
Bill wore a fake white beard for years but started growing his own after retirement. His wife, a former beautician, perms his hair to make it wavy.
"He'll ask me what I want for Christmas, and I tell him, 'I want my husband back,'" she said. "So after Christmas, he cuts his hair and shaves, and he's a new man."
Bill occasionally rides around in a Santa suit on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle with the license plate "Santa 3."
That caught the attention of Biking Life Magazine in 2003, when his photo appeared on the cover of its December issue.
"(Playing Santa) takes its toll sometimes," Bill said. "It wears me down. Lately, I've been saying, 'Maybe someone else should take over for me.' But then the phone starts ringing, and away I go."
Last year, Bill converted a shed into a Santa house, put it in his front yard and invited children to visit. He'll be open for business from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 14-16, serving hot chocolate and soda around a bonfire.
There is no charge. The address is 11 Mousette Ave. in East Carondelet. Parents can bring cameras to take photos.
Bill also will host a free children's Christmas party open to the public from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 22 at the Dupo VFW hall. Kids will receive coloring books, candy and other small gifts donated by businesses and individuals.
"There are a lot of kids around this area who don't have much," Sue said. "Some don't have Christmas at all. So with this (party), they get something, even if it's just one toy."