DARKE COUNTY - Santa Claus has been one busy fellow this Christmas season, but he’s used to it.
His memories go back all the way to 1978, so he’s heard and seen all when he drops in on family holiday get-togethers, company parties, some school events, organizational functions and sometimes when he serves mall duty which isn’t as often.
“I just got back in Dayton,” he said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “I was at the Toys for Tots district event. I was scheduled to do a Family Readiness Group for the Ohio National Guard recently, but it got canceled because of the snow.”
He said his most memorable Christmas was when a little girl asked for a bike when he was sitting up at the Santa House in downtown Greenville.
“I knew it wasn’t in the cards for her, because it looked like things might be tight,” he said. “But, then I got to give that bike to her later on at a private party in Greenville.”
Santa makes sure, however, that he never promises anything.
“One thing kids ask for are miracles,” he said. “Corynna (Strawser) years ago asked for a new digestive system. That was before she was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease. My answer [to those types of requests] is that Santa doesn’t do miracles, just toys. I told her Jesus does miracles.”
Yes, Santa has been there for Corynna many years. He was even there when a special parade was held for the Greenville teen on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and he attended the early Christmas party thrown for the Strawser family just prior to her passing.
“She was frail at that time, but was alert,” he said. “It was especially sad when I saw her year after year going downhill. Last year, she came to the Christmas party at a relative’s in a wheelchair and oxygen and at least was mobile. It’s tough to see a child year after year going downhill like that.”
Santa remembers some of the fads of recent years, including the Cabbage Patch Dolls, Pokemon items and skateboarder Tony Hawk’s toys.
“This year, requests from the kids are varied…iPads and some iPhones,” he said. “Electronics are pretty common, Ipads in particular. The little ones you wouldn’t expect wanted Iphones. After hearing a few hundred requests, they all start running together. That’s why Santa has to keep a list.”
The children, he said, are talkative this year.
“Every child is different,” he said. “In some ways they’re alike, but they’re young individuals.”
And, every so often, he gets the occasional adult.
“I have a good, strong knee,” he said.
To make sure he’s getting his role right, the local Santa is involved with the Santa Claus association, the Buckeye Santas, which is comprised of almost 100 members in the state of Ohio.
“We are from Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, one in Port Clinton and several in Dayton and Cincinnati,” Santa said. “I’m the only one in this area of the state. We meet January through October trying to have training sessions.”
Those training sessions, he said, take place at Fort Rapids Water Park on the east side of Columbus. He has been with that group for six years.
“At one session, we heard about autistic children in the training sessions,” Santa said. “We learn how to react to these children with special needs.”
The Buckeye Santas, he said, took part in one “Extreme Makeover” television show. The group was involved with that and people from 18 states came, according to Santa.
“It’s good to get together with the other Santas and pick up on things they’ve discovered over the years,” he said.
At many of these events, Mrs. Claus tags along, and four of his six grandchildren are his “elves.”
“We all went to a Family Readiness event in St. Mary’s two years ago,” he said.
The local Santa has gone through three outfits in his career. The one he has now he considers the best suit he’s ever had.
“It’s made of real wool and designed by Charles W. Howard, Macy’s first Santa,” he said. “It’s top quality. He [Howard] designed it because he needed a suit that wouldn’t wear out. It’s made now in Michigan at Santa and Company. I don’t see any wear with the thousands of children I’ve had on my knee.”
No child has gotten sick or has ever “wet” on him.
“Ornery boys never pull on my beard, but infants…that’s another story,” he said. “A bunch of children from 1 1/2- to 2-year range are scared of me. After 3 to 3 1/2, it’s. ‘Woo, this is the guy who brings presents,’ and puts that into the equation. Some, when they first see Santa, get a death grip on their parent’s neck and won’t let go. And, some children are more shy than others.”
Santa, who visits on the average of 33 Christmas events yearly, said a few requests from children have brought tears to his eyes.
“When they ask for their parents to get back together or if their grandparents can be cured of cancer, it tugs at your heart strings,” he said.
Just as he talks to the children, he learns a lot from them.
“From them, I’ve learned a lot of different family traditions,” he said. “How he uses the magic snowball or globe to see a child all year-round or the elf on the shelf who reports back to Santa. There are all kinds of nuances. You have to watch out for that. You don’t want to disagree on anything like that. But, it’s interesting to hear all about how Santa arrives.”
He concluded, “I have a little farm and bale hay, and a guy who has helped me for a long while has a 9-year-old son who is now convinced that Santa has to come to Darke County to get hay for the reindeer.”