In an open sleigh

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Matt Johnson, chair of the Dayton Rodeo Committee, at left, along with John Skoglund, president of the Dayton Community Club, demonstrate what will happen in Dayton’s Oak Park on Dec. 16 when sleigh rides will be offered from 1 to 4 p.m. The illuminated sleigh is part of the annual Festival of Lights.

DAYTON — It’s easy enough to hear and sing about going for a winter sleigh ride.

Just cue “Jingle Bells” on whatever device you listen to music on or sing the part of the lyrics that you can recall.

“Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.”

For those who want the real experience, a visit to Dayton on Dec. 16 will let them have it during the annual Sleigh Rides and Santa in Oak Park from 1 to 4 p.m.

The event is hosted by the Dayton Rodeo Committee and the Dayton Community Club.

Rodeo Committee Chair Matt Johnson said the event will happen regardless of the weather.

“It’s horse drawn,” he said. “We’ll have a sleigh if the weather allows, otherwise it’s a wheeled cart. We go on snow or not.”

The sleigh or cart, along with the horses, are provided by Jesse and Frank Green, of Dayton. Their teams will be helped out by a team from Dream Carriage Rides of Dakota City as well.

Visitors will be able to see a special guest.

“Santa will be there.” Johnson said. “We’ll also have hot cocoa and cookies.”

John Skoglund, president of the Dayton Community Club committee, has been active with the carriage rides and the long standing tradition of the Dayton Festival of Lights.

He even got to be Santa one year.

“I wasn’t real happy about it at the time,” he joked. “It turned out to be a real treat, though. The kids tell you what they want.”

Neither Johnson or Skoglund would reveal who Santa is this year, perhaps an indication that, well, it’s Santa.

“It’s not me.” Skoglund said.

Johnson said the carriage rides have been growing in popularity.

“Our first year it was about 100.” he said. “We had about 250 the next year and last year, about 400.”

The year before last, when the temperature was around 4 degrees, attendance was down to about 100.

Weather won’t cancel the event.

“We’ve done it when it was 4 degrees and we’ve done it when it was 50.” Johnson said.

The event is free courtesy of the Rodeo Committee.

“It’s giving back to the community,” he said. “It’s our gift to the town.”

Visitors to Dayton can also stay until after dark and tour the Festival of Lights in the park.

Oak Park is located on the southeast edge of Dayton along Iowa Highway 175.