Special Feature - The Man and The Magic Behind the Beard

“The greatest thing is not to believe in Santa Claus; it is to be Santa Claus.” — Pat Boone

This thought would certainly be echoed by a local man who has donned the red suit and beard and become Santa Claus for countless children and adults in Outlook and surrounding area for more than 30 years, bringing smiles to many faces and providing a listening ear along the way.

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“I’m not really sure, in all honesty, how it happened,” he said in explaining that being Santa was never something he sought out, yet somehow it happened all the same. “I’ve pondered and pondered that. I didn’t go looking for it. I guess I was brave enough to put the suit on,” he added with a smile. The time has gone quickly, as he was reminded when approached by a woman who told him her little boy once sat on his lap. Santa asked how long ago that might have been and she said that child was now 29 years old. “I was struck,” Santa said. “I didn’t realize it had been that long.”

He estimates he’s attended more than 200 events over the years including Santa Claus Days, play school parties, and events at the elementary school, Variety Place, and even nursing homes. “It’s an easy way to spread joy and make some memories,” he remarked.

Those memories include encounters with young and old alike, including those that were rather unexpected. Many years ago he was at an event when a 95-year old lady came up and told him she’d never sat on Santa’s knee, so he told her it was about time. What followed was a delightful visit where she asked for a pair of socks, but mostly that her grandchildren and great grandchildren would have a nice Christmas. Santa caught up with her at the end of the evening and asked about her visit with Santa and she remarked, “I wish I would have done it sooner!”

While she was the most elderly visitor he has had, he has also greeted many wee ones. “Oh, babies are wonderful,” Santa remarked. “Babies always get my beard tangled up in their fingers. Their hands are always moving and grasping. It’s wonderful.” The youngest one who came to see him was only three days old. “The baby was so quiet, not a peep out of it,” he said.

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Santa also remembers with fondness an encounter he had with a young woman in her early 20’s. At one point in the afternoon there was a lull in the lineup of children and at that moment the young woman approached Santa and asked if she could speak with him. The two sat together on a bench and she talked about being from out of province and was here for work, but feeling there wasn’t much for her in the community. After sharing her heart, she told him as soon as she saw Santa she knew she could come and talk. “It really shows that Santa is there to listen and it is a place to share,” he said. “That’s what she needed. She needed time to talk to Santa about her life and the loneliness she was feeling. When she saw Santa she instantly realized she could come and visit.”

Of course it’s the children expressing their wishes that is a big part of what Santa hears. “I focus on the child very strongly,” he explained. “It’s a one-to-one conversation with Santa and it should never be anything different. That’s where Santa’s power is so strong. Santa is able to take the time for a brief moment to intently listen to what they have to say. The child feels that Santa is listening. He’s really listening. It’s a beautiful event when it happens.”

Santa often hears wishes for toys that are particularly hot items each year, but he has also heard some rather unique requests, like the boy that asked for a tractor and a seeder for his dad, or one little girl who asked for a horse.  “And she got her horse,” Santa said with a laugh. “I followed up on that one!”

Sometimes children ask for things that can’t be put under the tree, but ones that serve a larger purpose, like wanting world peace or wishing their mom and dad would get along better. Santa deals with each request in a way the child will understand. “I tell children they can do something for world peace. I say, ‘you have the power to do it right around you in your own circle of friends. You can provide that world peace right here and if everybody did that, peace would spread all over the world.’” When it comes to wishes about parents, Santa assures them that although mommy and daddy may have some things they are worried about, they are not upset with them.

It’s those types of moments that make these visits so special because it might be the first time a child has shared something out loud.  “Sometimes children will tell Santa things they won’t tell anyone else,” he said, “and quite often I see the parents listening very intently to what the child is telling me so that they know what they said. Some children will only tell Santa what they really want.”

Santa watches children as they approach so he can begin to get a sense of who the child is. “I’m an observer,” he said. “I watch them as they come up. The eager ones quite often want a hug and they’ll run to me and when they do they get a hug, definitely. Santa gets a hug right back. They are so enthusiastic, so bubbly and so talkative. It’s just wonderful. It just warms my heart.”

Some children are a bit shy or reluctant and Santa takes time to connect with each one. “I remember one little boy who came in and he looked at Santa and said he was not going to go sit on his lap. Well, the challenge was down. When there was a break in children coming to see Santa I got up and walked over and was talking with his parents. I would look at the little boy once in a while and kept talking to the parents. Then I held out my hand to the little boy and said, ‘Mrs. Claus would like a picture. Let’s go.’ So he took my finger and over to the chair we went and had a beautiful picture taken. The mother gasped and said, ‘I can’t believe that Santa could do that!” For Santa, it’s all about ensuring a good visit. “I know the parents want to have a good picture, and I want the kids to have a good impression of Santa.”

Some youngsters are brave enough to inquire as to whether they are on the naughty or nice list. Santa will ask if they really think there might be a naughty list adding, “If there is, I don’t think you’re on it. Maybe you have been naughty but you’re trying to do better. That’s the important thing. We have to try to be good. Yes, once in a while we have those moments when we’re on the naughty list but that’s okay. Santa is on the naughty list once in a while, too.”

While much of the job may involve listening to children and posing for pictures, Santa has found himself in situations where he has lent a hand and created a special memory for some unsuspecting people. That includes a December night a few years ago when Dwight and Debbie Overlid ran into vehicle trouble while taking two granddaughters on a sparkle tour in Outlook. While out on a dark road south of Rudy Landing, and with their cellphones back at home, Dwight flagged down an approaching vehicle and was surprised to discover Santa Claus behind the wheel. Santa brought them into the van, chatted about reindeer and being more comfortable driving a sleigh, then safely delivered them home and posed for a picture. But prior to that picture, Santa brushed off the step so they had a clean place to sit and pose, and that caught the girls’ attention. Debbie explained that they had been to see a mall Santa whose suit, beard and gloves were quite dirty but she assured them the real Santa was clean. So when they encountered this Santa whose hat and beard were glistening white and who cleaned off the step before they sat down, Debbie said it sealed the deal for the girls. He was the real thing and they described their encounter as “the best Christmas present ever.”

There’s another piece of that story that Santa points to as being very meaningful. Days later, after sharing their encounter in The Outlook to thank Santa, it just so happened the man in the suit ran into them and told them it was a beautiful story. Santa said Dwight looked at him and asked, “Was that you?” He didn’t know for sure. Dwight had lost a special person in his life that year and told Santa he was not feeling the Christmas spirit until that encounter on the road. But when Santa picked them up and treated them so well, it revived his Christmas spirit.           

Santa hears a lot of wishes each year but he also has wishes of his own, including one for the people of Outlook and area. “My message is to love each other,” he remarked. “Look after the people in our community that are hurting, ones that need a little bit of love, a little bit of time. Because in the giving, they will be blessed.”

It’s safe to say Santa loves Christmas. “Oh yes, I do. I really love Christmas,” he said. “I look forward to it all year.” Christmas is a very special time for him because of its true meaning. “Over 2000 years ago a baby was born that changed the world,” he explained. “Without this baby there would be no Christmas. We have incredible worship services to remember why Christ came, why Mary and Joseph had Jesus in a stable, and why the wisemen came. Remember that St. Nicholas was a Roman Catholic Bishop who gave gifts away. Santa represents giving in this season of great love which is a time of giving and a time of receiving. Kids may receive more, but the gifts we give are meant to show our love, expecting nothing in return. So in my way of looking at it, Santa is part of the whole big picture.”          

Even though he visits with many children every year, each one holds a special place in his heart. “I remember the children from year to year,” he explained. “I remember quite often what they’ve asked for.” Last year a little girl told him she didn’t want anything for Christmas. This year when she came to see Santa she again said she didn’t want anything. So Santa asked her if she liked what she got last year and she exclaimed, “Oh, it was wonderful.” So he looked at her, smiled and said, “See, Santa knows.”

© The Outlook

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