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Santa on Horseback?
Oakdale offers western twist for holiday shopping By TERESA HAMMOND

As the growing tradition of the ever popular Black Friday now bleeds into Thanksgiving, one Valley community maintains its own tradition to ring in the holiday shopping season.

Just east of the Modesto area, the small community of Oakdale will host the 23rd Annual Cowboy Christmas. Presented by the Oakdale Cowboy Museum the event will be held at the Gene Bianchi Community Center, 110 S. Second Ave., Oakdale. Event hours are Nov. 25 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Nov. 26 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to Oakdale Cowboy Museum Manager Karen Serpa, this year’s event will draw close to 65 vendors, some indoors at the center, others outside in the adjacent plaza location. Shoppers can expect a variety of western home décor, furniture, artwork, jewelry, apparel and leather goods.

“I’ve always dubbed us and say we’re the mini NFR,” Serpa said, noting the National Finals Rodeo event hosted in Las Vegas the following weekend – an event known for its expo and extensive western shopping.

“NFR always seems to be the same crowd,” she continued. “Instead of having to go down there and shop before watching the finals, you can do your shopping beforehand and you don’t have to haul them home or ship them home.”

While the western flair and tribute to the cowboy heritage may suit a certain crowd, it is the Saturday appearance of Cowboy Santa which draws families back to the event year after year. The unique ‘jolly old soul’ arrives each year on horseback complete with cowboy boots, hat and a western belt buckle.

“He usually stays until 2 p.m. for sure,” Serpa shared, offering his highly anticipated arrival time as 11 a.m. “Sometimes he stays until 3 p.m., it depends on the crowd and the children.”

As with the traditional Santa, photo opportunities are available for children and adults of all ages. Professional photos are available for purchase, yet visitors are permitted to take their own as well.

“It draws the families back,” Serpa said of both the chance to see Cowboy Santa as well as the verity of exhibitors. “There are vendors that they come back to see those vendors specifically. They have a following.”

Event chairperson Karen Serpa, who is the Cowboy Museum manager’s sister-in-law and has the same name, said the celebration is unique to the community.

“It’s really an Oakdale product,” Serpa shared. “Mostly western themed. Whether it’s for the home or the clothing, it’s not your typical craft fair.”

For those choosing to make a day of it, food and beverages are also available at the event, as well as a raffle of items donated by the vendors. The kitchen is manned by the District 5 High School Rodeo team with proceeds from their sales going directly to them. Raffle ticket sales benefit the Cowboy Museum.

“People do make a day of it,” event chair Serpa added. “They come in, see Cowboy Santa, shop. They lunch somewhere in town, if they don’t have lunch at the event. They make a day of it and it’s really fun.”

As for the museum’s Serpa, the endless hours and her dedication to the Oakdale Cowboy Museum as the manager and at this annual event, her biggest reward comes via the smiles.

“Watching all the kids be excited to see Santa, that’s my favorite part,” she said.

Additional information on Cowboy Christmas and the Oakdale Cowboy Museum can be found at

. The museum is at 355 E. F St., Oakdale. Operating hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.