Horse feet clip-clopped down the sun-baked asphalt as Santa Claus sat in regal splendor.
The children lucky enough to capture a coveted spot on his knees didn't seem to notice when the jolly old fellow paused to wipe his sweaty brow and adjust his long, white locks.After all, the unusual is to be expected when you celebrate Christmas in July.
For days, children at the Salt Lake homeless shelter have been checking the calendar, marked with a "Christmas" countdown: X days until Christmas. Their excited giggles echoed throughout the shelter as staff members put up a Christmas tree and added all the trimmings.
Santa retired his reindeer in favor of his summer vehicle, a horse-drawn carriage, driven by his helper, Bob. But winter or summer, one thing remains unchanged: Santa Claus doesn't go anywhere without presents for good little boys and girls.
The Salt Lake Board of Realtors invited him to the shelter as part of their fourth annual Christmas in July celebration. The Realtors provide gifts for each child, as well as a Christmas feast centered around sliced turkey and mashed potatoes.
"We do this because it's an opportunity for us as members of the community to serve the needs of a group. These children didn't ask to be born into this kind of life. If we can help to add joy to their lives, we'd do anything," said Georgia Ball, president of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors.
"Does everyone get a ride?" a worried tyke at the back of the line wondered. And everyone did - all 62 children, half of them under age 4.
"This is the strangest thing I've ever seen," said Sheila Piper. Her six children, ages 1 to 11, nodded agreement. "I've never heard of it. But the kids sure think it's something special."
"It was fun!" Latasha, 11, laughed. "I sat on Santa. I'm a lucky girl. I get straight As in school. I'll be in the sixth grade next year."
"It's exciting," Holly, 9, agreed. "I've been waiting for it all day. I never rode on a carriage before. And I've never gone with Santa. But usually it's not this hot."
As Santa and his carriage spun around in the street to pick up another group of passengers, a tiny girl named Victoria reached up and gave him a hug.
"Thanks," she said. "Who are you?"