After a polar vortex that gave us plenty of opportunities to perfect our harping about weather, we could be extra testy about today's heat and humidity. Or, we could sit on Santa's lap in front of the elf house outside the Banana Split ice cream parlor in Aurora, chill with Gingerbread Flurries, admire the Christmas tree decorations, drop a few coins into the Salvation Army kettle and think happy thoughts.
"For the most part, when you've got an ice cream in your hand and a jolly old Santa Claus, it's hard to get grumpy," says Randy Brown, who started the iconic Banana Split neighborhood soft serve ice cream stand in 1983 with his wife, Lisa. Santa will set up shop at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Banana Split, 820 Church Road, to hear early gift requests and pose for photos at the shop, which closes at 10 p.m. Anyone who donates an unwrapped toy will receive a gift card for an ice cream treat.
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Since they close their ice cream parlor in October every year, the Browns miss the Christmas season. Their Christmas in July, now in its third year, makes up for that.
"We decorate our store with trees and lights," says Lisa Brown, who puts up at least a half-dozen lighted Christmas trees she inherited from when her parents used to run the Jonlee Flowers store. Santa sits on a bench in front of a homemade elf house, and employees wear red or green shirts. The Browns tweak the menu to offer concoctions flavored with eggnog, gingerbread and peppermint and topped with green whipped cream.
"And my favorite, the Sno Caps," Randy Brown says.
In his full winter red suit with furry trim, and natural bushy white beard, Santa knows a trick to beat the heat.
"My frozen T-shirts," says Paul Eggert, who keeps a supply in a cooler and changes about every hour. "When I first put it on it takes the breath away. But it feels very good after about half an hour."
Even some inside gigs during December will get hot, but Eggert, 64, says he's never put his frozen T-shirts to the test in temperatures topping 90 degrees. "We'll see if this Santa Claus is like the ice cream, and melts," he says.
Now retired from his marketing job with Canadian National Railroad, Eggert used to portray Santa on a Christmas train running through Indiana.
While watching Russ Brown, Randy's brother, play the title character in a Fourth Street United Methodist Church production about the trial of Judas, the Browns noticed Eggert as the white-bearded judge.
"I nudged Randy and said, 'Wouldn't he make a great Santa?'" Lisa Brown remembers.
As an ice cream shop Santa in July, Eggert says he typically greets a lot of children wearing baseball and softball uniforms, firefighters from a nearby fire station, a couple of police officers and a bus full of kids enrolled in summer programs at the Illinois Math and Science Academy.
"They have to take selfies with Santa," Eggert says. "They also break out in Christmas carols."
Some moms and dads, hoping to move their children from the naughty list, ask Santa to "remind their kids they've only got six more months to turn things around," Eggert says.
When he does have a lull in visitors, "I'll walk out to the street and wave," Eggert says. "That catches a lot of people off-guard to see Santa in July."
A gardener, Eggert isn't immune to the heat and humidity. "I've become somewhat of a fair-weather golfer," he admits. But he vows that when he's bringing Santa to kids, "the heat may slow me down, but it doesn't stop me."
The Browns' daughter, Ashley, 28, has been the elf in past years. Her husband, Adrian Radosav, made the elf house. The Browns' son, Drew, 26, who has a master's degree in sports management, understands Santa's heat issues from his years of being one of the costumed racing sausages at Milwaukee Brewers games.
"The whole purpose is to have fun," says Lisa Brown. And to collect toys and money for the Salvation Army. And to sell some ice cream.
The heat may increase this week's crowd at Banana Split, but the best-selling days generally occur when the place opens for the season two months after Christmas and the long winter.
"If you get a nice 40-degree day in February," Randy Brown says, "you'll blow the doors off the place, compared to a 70-degree day in August."