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‘Clause’ & effect

It takes more than a red hat to play Santa

Danie Harrelson

— The holidays present a timely opportunity for some people to help others suspend belief for a moment and believe in something all too unbelievable.

Every year they don red flannel and shiny black boots, sit in large chairs and balance toddlers on their knees.

They speak on behalf of the man who cannot always leave his obligations at the North Pole to make pre-Christmas Eve appearances in the Yampa Valley.

They are Santa’s helpers.

Some of them only recently took up the tradition of playing Santa Claus, while others could fill pages of memoirs about their experiences on the job.

After years of ho-ho-hoing at ground level, George Weber has considered writing a book about the time he spends in his Santa suit.

Chapter two would highlight the humor he said he finds in dressing as Santa before he heads out the door.

“Half the fun is getting there,” Weber said.

People don’t always know how to react when Old St. Nick pulls alongside them at a stoplight, he said.

Adults usually do everything in their power to avoid looking his way, he added.

The process of becoming Santa Claus, Weber said, involves a change not only of clothes but of persona.

As he puts on each piece of his costume, from red socks to theatrical beard, he said he feels more like Santa and less like himself.

“You go through a transformation,” he said.

Sometimes, however, mind over matter does not always work.

After losing 50 pounds in the past two years, Weber said he has had to purchase a tummy in order to look like a guy who helps himself to countless plates of cookies and glasses of milk on Christmas Eve.

“Somebody actually told me I was too thin last year,” he said.

Celebrations owner Sandy Pugh said her store must often outfit wannabe Santas with belly stuffers to help them better play the part.

She rents and sells regular and deluxe Santa suits in addition to other Christmas-themed costumes to make anyone look like Mrs. Claus, elves, or characters in a nativity scene and The Nutcracker.

Pugh also rents outs Santa himself during the holidays.

After playing Santa so many times, many people who rent the costumes eventually decide to purchase their own.

Richard “Festus” Hagins of Hayden will be getting a custom-made Santa suit for next year.

He said he has mulled over the idea of growing a beard, instead of wearing a fake beard that children pull to determine its authenticity.

When Hagins stands outside to greet children, layers of clothing underneath his suit keep him toasty, he said.

Some of those children embrace him as the real thing, while others throw questions at him, he said.

“There are the brazen ones who try to pry it out of you,” Hagins said. “Some of them just sit there in awe and don’t say a word.”

As Santa’s helper, he must fill in for the Big Guy once in a while, he said.

Youngsters usually accept his explanation about maintaining a direct line to Santa Claus, and understand he will relay their wishes to the North Pole as soon as he can, Hagins said.

Children’s wish lists often include live animals and large amounts of cash, Patrick Browning said.

With parents standing nervously in the background, he said he usually assures children he will do his best to answer their requests.

“But they should talk to mom or dad, of course,” Browning said.

He wears his Santa suit only once a year at the community Christmas party at Howelsen Hill in early December.

The infrequency of his Santa jaunts keep the experience new and fresh every year, Browning said.

“I’m afraid if I started doing it for a lot for people, it would no longer be fun,” he said.

After 17 or 18 years of playing the man in red, he said he has learned to deal with his suit.

“It’s unbearable,” Browning said. “It’s a big old velvet suit, I’ve got a pillow under it, and then I’m exhaling into a huge, white beard.”

He said he understands why younger children are traditionally timid when mom and dad thrust them his way.

“They’re walking right up into this big fur ball,” he said.

But the chance to spend time with children who will suspend their belief for a moment to believe in Santa gives Browning, as well as the rest of the Santa crowd, reason to come back year after year for more yanks, drilling and never-ending wish lists.

“You’ve got to love these kids with a sparkle in their eye,” he said.

To reach Danie Harrelson call 871-4208

or e-mail dharrelson@steamboatpilot.com


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