Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanks DeAnn

In 1977 at the age of fourteen I was asked to be Santa Claus for the Watseka Area Chamber of Commerce. It would be a position that I would hold for eight years until my high school and college education was complete. The job entailed a parade and working in a Santa House in downtown Watseka.

In 1981, my freshman year in college, I was preparing to do the Santa gig once again for the chamber when the week before the parade, I broke my left wrist in a pick-up game of football. In my four years of high school football and four years of college ball I never got hurt, but a pick game almost sidelined my Santa career in its tracks.

I was very upset as I got the cast put on my arm. The Santa thing was done, at least for this year I thought. When the chamber found out I had a cast on, they did not panic. They suggest I find a Mrs. Claus to help lift the children.

In November of 1981, I asked DeAnn to be my Mrs. Santa Claus. She and I met in kindergarten as children and had gone through the entire Watseka School System together starting in 1968. She was the perfect choice as she was studying to be a teacher and most importantly she loved Christmas.

Thirty years have come and gone since DeAnn became Mrs. Santa Claus. She has appeared in many parades, on TV programs, at Santa’s Village, and in Santa Claus, Indiana. Three decades as Mrs. Santa Claus. I would say that there are not many Mrs. C’s out there that have done what she has done with the role and for that length of time.

Besides being Mrs. Santa Claus, DeAnn is a school teacher with 26 years with Unit 9 in Watseka, Illinois. She has two master’s degrees and numerous State of Illinois special certificates in elementary education. Beside all that and most importantly to me, today she is my real Mrs. Claus.

Thanks DeAnn for all you do for me and Santa Claus.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just who is Santa Claus?

With Christmas just about a month away I like to take the time to stop and reflect about just who I am portraying and what it really means to be Santa Claus. You see, Santa Claus is real, more than one might expect and has been around a long time.

Ask any child what Santa looks like, and he or she can probably describe him – he’s a big guy with a white beard, a red suit and hat, and a reindeer-drawn sleigh. But how did the gift-giving habits of Nicholas, a Christian saint who lived in the third century, evolve into the myth of a jolly old elf that slides down chimneys?

Two people, political cartoonist Thomas Nast and author Clement C. Moore can largely take credit for popularizing today’s image of Santa as a jolly, rotund fellow who wears a fur-trimmed red suit. But the evolution from St. Nicholas to the image of today’s Santa occurred over a long period.

Nicholas was born in 270 AD in what is now Turkey. His parents were wealthy, devout Christians who died when he was little. Following Jesus’ advice to give to the poor, Nicholas gave away his entire inheritance to the poor and needy. He became the Bishop of Myra while still a young man, and continued to help those in need, particularly children.

Nicholas was known for his generosity. The most popular legend about St. Nicholas tells of a poor man who had three daughters but couldn’t afford a dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in the absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Nicholas decided to help the man by going to his house at night and throwing three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window.

Another version of the story has him throwing the coins down the chimney, which explains the connection to Santa’s preference for entering homes via the chimney.

The legend of this generous saint was brought to the New World by Dutch settlers, and the name Santa Claus would evolve from the Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas. The saint became a part of local lore when John Pintard founded the New York Historical Society in 1804 and made St. Nicholas the patron saint of the society and New York City.

St. Nick received another boost a few years later when Washington Irving joined the society and published a work called Knickerbockers’ History of New York on St. Nicholas Day. The work contained numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character.

It was Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” (now better known as “The Night Before Christmas”) that cemented St. Nicholas’ image as “a jolly old elf” with a “little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.” Moore reportedly wrote the poem for his family in 1822. It was first printed in a newspaper a year later, and it then became popular and was reprinted anonymously in a number of publications.

Political cartoonist Thomas Nast helped popularize the image Moore created in the famous poem. In 1863 Nast began drawing a series of annual cartoons for Harper’s Weekly that was based on the character in the poem and in Washington Irving’s work. Nash’s Santa has a beard, fur clothing, and a pipe, and was the basis for many Santas to follow. He was also the one to invent the North Pole, elves, and Mrs. Claus.

By the early 1900s, the image of Santa in a red suit and hat was so common that the Volunteers of America began dressing men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations for the Christmas meals for the needy. Later, artists such as Norman Rockwell and companies such as Coca-Cola continued to popularize the image of Santa Claus as a bearded fellow in a red suit in both artwork and advertising.

Today, Santa Claus is now a common image of Christmas who still carries on the spirit of giving that St. Nicholas started centuries ago and his likeness is known across the world.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Detroit's Super Santa - Joseph "Bernie" Marquis

As time goes by and we get older, you realize how important some people are in your life. Over 20 some years ago, I was introduced to a great Santa from Detroit named Joseph “Bernie” Marquis. Bernie at the time, in the 1970s and 1980s, was one of the nation’s premier Santas. For many years he was the official Santa Claus for the Hudson’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (now known as America’s Thanksgiving Parade) on Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit. The Detroit News called Bernie “Super Santa” which he was.

I always admired Bernie’s rendition of Santa and met him for lunch in the mid-1980s when I was in my early twenties. He was very polite, honest, and gave me some advice that would eventually help shape my career as Santa. At the time he may have had no idea how he influenced me.

Over two decades later, Bernie and I talked on the phone today. We caught up on each other. He is now a priest with the Sacred Heart Byzantine Catholic Church in Detroit and I am still Santa from Santa’s Village.

Next week, Father Marquis is coming to Illinois to see me. We are going to have lunch again. Thanks Bernie or I should say Father Marquis, for taking time to have lunch with me…both times. You have been an inspiration to me and I thank you.
Visit Santa from Santa's Village Click Here .