When Dave Albanese became a father more than two decades ago, he started searching for a place that offered breakfast with Santa, an annual tradition at Gimbels department store during his own childhood.
It's a simple formula: on one day in December, children can eat breakfast and tell Santa what presents they want for Christmas. But Mr. Albanese, 53, of New Brighton, couldn't find a good place to take his oldest son, Lorenzo.
"I thought, we'll just have our own," he said.
On Sunday, for the 18th consecutive year, the Albanese family is holding its own breakfast with Santa. It's an event that started with just a few cousins and friends, has grown to more than 60 people, and has survived even the family's move to Qatar in 2005.
"It's been a very cool, fun experience and a tradition," said Barbara Albanese, 49, his wife.
Mr. Albanese, who is director of human resources at Northwestern University in Doha, Qatar, sat at his kitchen table this morning, holding a Santa coffee mug.
He, his wife and their three children, Lorenzo, 20, Giovanna, 17, and Luciano, 12, had just returned Tuesday night to their New Brighton home, which Mr. Albanese decorated in the fall on a quick trip back to Beaver County from Qatar, a 20-hour plane journey from the Persian Gulf state.
This year is a little sad, Mrs. Albanese said, because it is the first year when all three of her children know the truth about Santa, though Giovanna said they still believe in the spirit of Santa.
For years, the three children believed that their father had some sort of special connection to the North Pole, some string he could pull to get Santa to their house for a meal before Christmas.
"I thought he was really cool," Luciano said. "The man."
Over the years, Mr. Albanese has adjusted the experience slightly. He tried two different Santas before settling on a professional Mr. and Mrs. Claus couple from New Brighton, partly for continuity's sake. Mr. Albanese invites family and friends, making a spreadsheet where he marks which children are believers and which are not.
"One of the things I make sure the parents all know, is that when they come here, we all believe in Santa," he said.
Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive after the children have eaten to talk about how Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus and to lead Christmas carols. Then, each child gets a chance to sit on Santa's lap. Every child receives a gift card, and every family receives a Christmas ornament inscribed with the year and the letters BWS -- for Breakfast with Santa.
"When we originally started this because we had Lorenzo, it was like my Christmas gift to me, because I love it," Mr. Albanese said.
Many years, and many breakfasts later, he still loves it. Lorenzo Albanese joked that his father was "head elf." Mr. Albanese prefers "Santa's helper." Sometime in the future, though, he'd like to be Santa.mobilehome - holidays - neigh_north