Ask someone from what their favorite holiday movie is and you expect to hear “Elf” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Ask that question in Bay County, though, and you might get a very different answer.
For five years, a group of long-time friends have produced “The Gift,” a video that tells a different story each year of a man trying to deliver a Christmas present.
In the annual video, he runs past Bay City landmarks such as stately Center Avenue homes, the iconic World Friendship Fountain in Wenonah Park, and the entertainment spots on Midland Street. The videos have attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers.
What started out as a friends spending an afternoon together creating a fun, short video for family and friends has turned into an annual tradition for thousands of people.
In the newest version of 'The Gift,' Trombley runs through a crowd of Santas.
Jeff Hildebrant, Andrew Tromba, Jordan Frank, and Alex Alexandrou have partnered since 2018 to create “The Gift.”
The video changes each year, but always involves Tromba running through Bay City to deliver a holiday gift. Alexandrou appears as a magical elf. Hildebrant and Frank film the run. Hildebrant edits the final product. One year, Jeff Yantz made an appearance as Tromba ran through Wenonah Park.
The 2021 video dropped on Dec. 14. This year, it tells the story of Tromba running through “probably a hundred Santas, maybe a thousand Santas” on Midland Street. Click here to see the 2021 story.
This year, Tromba says he almost didn’t participate. He’s about to become a dad for the second time. He didn’t think he had time. But, then, Tromba realized he would have regretted missing the experience if he canceled.
So Tromba met up with Hildebrant and Frank on Midland Street during the annual Santa Crawl on Midland Street
. They also filmed an indoor segment with Alexandrou.
This year, the movie doesn’t feature Tromba running past quite as many Bay City landmarks as in the past, although several Midland Street businesses are visible.
One year, the runner and the elf, played by Alex Alexandrou, catch a ride on the Santa Train.
In the past, Tromba has run through business districts, into a church, across one of the bridges spanning the Saginaw River, and through local parks. One year, he catches a ride on a Santa train and another he hops aboard a fire truck. In 2020, he dropped presents from an airplane into the waiting arms of children.
The first year, Hildebrant posted the video on his personal Facebook page, assuming only friends and family would be interested. It got so many views, though, that he took it off his personal page and created a Facebook page just for the videos.
Hildebrant says the earlier videos get more viewers each time he introduces a new one. He’s still amazed at the support.
“The first one, the reason we did it, was just for fun,” HIldebrant says.
It told the story of Tromba getting locked out of his house without his car keys. He runs through town to deliver a present in time for Christmas.
The men hoped to get 30,000 views. They thought they were being wildly optimistic.
“We didn’t think we were going to get a bunch of views,” Hildebrant says.
“It was more for of something for us to do and edit it really quick and our friends would like it. We were out with friends for a drink when it hit over 100,000 views.”
The success hasn’t changed the two key rules for the project. One, they don’t think about it before Thanksgiving. Two, they film and edit in as short a time as they can manage.
Much of what you see in the videos is spontaneous. They stopped at the fire station to ask about riding the truck. They connected with a friend of a friend to get a four-minute spot on the Santa train.
“It’s spur of the moment, just trying to do something in a Christmas movie style that’s fun,” Hildebrant says. “Everybody is always gung ho about helping us.”