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These Wichita Santas Are Keeping Up The Cheer Despite A Difficult Holiday Season

Courtesy Santa
Santa has entertained children for more than 30 years. He says children haven't changed much over the decades.

The most difficult thing in writing about people who make appearances as Santa Claus? What to call them.

Do you use their real names (and risk ending up on the naughty list)? Call them Santa’s helpers? Mall Santas?

For this story, we’ll stick to the names they prefer when they’re decked out in full costume: Santa and Little Santa.

Both have worked big events around town this month — like Illuminations at Botanica and the big lights display at the Arc of Sedgwick County. They also performed at a number of smaller, private events.

Many annual events they usually attend were canceled this year because of the pandemic. Little Santa said his appearances dropped from 40 a year ago to 16 in 2020.

Credit Courtesy Botanica
Little Santa says social distancing brought on by the pandemic is disappointing, but necessary.

The worst part of the pandemic, they both said, was it interrupted their interaction with children, which is the reason for their season.

"I love to see the kids," said Little Santa, who has donned his red suit for 12 years. "That's what is a little bit hard for me this year because I can't really visit with the kids. You got to stay your distance and all this stuff."

Santa said he has a special affinity for special needs and underprivileged children. And he said he never charges for his services because it doesn’t feel right.

Despite the limitations brought on by the pandemic and a reduction in the number of appearances he made this month, he said his goal remains the same.

"I tried to see as many kids as I can," Santa said. "If Mrs. Claus and myself could make just a little bit of happiness for a child at this time of the year, that's what we want to do."

Santa got started when his wife made an offhand comment 30 years ago when his hair and beard quickly transformed from gray to white: "You’re starting to look like Santa," she said.

She’s now Mrs. Claus and is by his side when makes appearances. Both of them wear custom, handmade outfits that were sewn by Santa’s mom.

He estimates he has had thousands of children sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. He said that transaction hasn’t changed much over the decades.

"Children are still children," he said. "That sparkle in their eye, the gleam, the excitement.

"It warms Santa and Mrs. Claus' heart to see all these kids."

And kids aren’t the only ones who can’t wait for Christmas. Little Santa said he starts looking forward to the holidays during the heat of the summer.

"I enjoy Santa and when it comes around … to December or, well, actually June, July, I'm getting all .... restless because I can't wait till Christmas comes around," he said.

He keeps his bushy white beard year-round, which he said can lead to interesting comments from children when he’s out shopping in his street clothes.

"If I’m in Walmart or something, you know, they'll go ahead and say, 'Mom, Mom, I think that’s Santa standing there,'" Little Santa said.

There’s no question that 2020 has earned a spot on the naughty list. But since we had Santa on the phone, we figured we’d ask him for a present: a kinder, gentler year to come.

"2021, I think, will be a better year," Santa said assuredly.

"I think the world's going to be a better place. At least this is what Santa and Mrs. Claus hopes for."

Tom Shine is KMUW's director of news and public affairs and the host of The Range. Find him on Twitter @thomaspshine.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.