I came across some old photos and articles the other day about my early years in Watseka, Illinois and playing Santa there as a teenager. They brought back quite a few memories and how lucky I am to have had these wonderful opportunities at such a young age. As some of you know I have been playing Santa in public since I was four years old, as a little Santa at the hospital where my Dad was the administrator, at local nursing homes and at school parties.
By 1977 I was a six foot tall freshman in high school when the local chamber of commerce approached my father to ask if I might be interested in being the official Santa Claus for their annual Christmas Parade and Santa House promotion. My Dad wasn't sure. I was a fourteen year old kid. Sure I did this Santa thing, but this was a paid job with a lot of stuff that went with it.
When my Dad talked to me about it I did not know what to think. Could I do it? What were the hours? What would my friends think? The decision was all mine to make. I thought about it a lot and finally said yes.
Santa House would be open everyday from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. The hours were Saturdays were 9am to 5pm, Sunday noon to 5pm and weekdays 3:30 pm until 8 pm. I would be in the Parade and have some other obligations as well. I would be paid $3.00 an hour. Even my schedule at school was change to allow me to get out early to work.
As Thanksgiving approached and my big day came near I grew nervous. I almost backed out, but my desire to be a professional Santa drove me. I knew I had some experience, a whopping ten years at the time.
The day of the Parade I was surprisingly relaxed. My Mom and Dad on the other had were not. I believe they knew that this might be that start of something. I had a dressing room in the basement of one of the local stores. My Dad came down to see me before the Chief of Police picked me up to drive me to the sleigh I was to ride in.
Dad reminded me that this might be the first step to bigger things. Just enjoy yourself and the experience your about to have. He gave me a hug and went to find a spot on the street to watch. The Parade that day in 1977 went off without a hitch. I did eight Parades and Santa House promotions for the chamber from 1977 through 1984. From a 14 year old freshman in high school to a 22 year old young man.
Those eight years in Watseka helped me with getting hired with my first job with Instant Photo Corporation of America in 1985, which led to Santa's Village in 1986. They also led me to a career as Santa. I would do a ninth Parade in Watseka in 2001. It was for my 20th high school class reunion.
I have done a lot of Santa things in the last 31 years since that Christmas. But nothing will be like that first feeling of turning the corner onto the parade route in Watseka that day. Dad was right…it was the first step.