Yes, Kentucky, There Is a Santa Claus
A red suit and real beard may very well be the starting points for a ï¿½realï¿½ Santa, but we all know it also takes a generous spirit to deliver magic.
Murray McCandless, of Elizabethtown, like several other ï¿½realï¿½ Santas across Kentucky, is never out of his professional Santa Claus persona.
ï¿½Clausing,ï¿½ as it is called in the trade, is a serious business and much more than going to a costume store and buying a Santa suit, beard, wig, gloves, and a Naugahyde black belt with matching shoe toppers.
ï¿½A Santa Claus can easily spend a thousand dollars for a custom-made suit, not to mention the add-ons like hand-tooled belts, gold-plated buckles, custom boots, and brass bells,ï¿½ says McCandless.
He says a real Santa might have $5,000 to $6,000 invested to ensure that when standing in front of a youngster, the smallest detail has not been overlooked.
McCandless says he is in contact with a group of real Santasï¿½probably 18 to 20ï¿½but heï¿½s sure there are more out there.
These Santas also have another distinction other than the high-end suits.
ï¿½The real Santas also have real beards,ï¿½ points out Jack Pattie, a popular morning radio talk show host in Lexington for the last 36 years and a professional Santa. ï¿½And thereï¿½s competition between those who have the real beards and those who donï¿½t.ï¿½
There have even been conventions for ï¿½real bearded Santas,ï¿½ illustrating how big the business is.
Over the years, Pattie has helped governors light trees, played Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street with the Woodford County Theatre in Versailles, and had his image replicated on greeting cards.
ï¿½It helps to have the basic physical structure to be Santa,ï¿½ he offers. ï¿½And itï¿½s more than a red suit and a ho, ho, ho.ï¿½
Walt Queen, from Louisville, says the Santa gig is 24/7.
ï¿½Iï¿½ve had my beard for a number of years,ï¿½ he says. ï¿½And with eight grandkids I have an interest in kids. Even when not in the suit Iï¿½m still aware of the look I have.ï¿½
Queen does the usual grand openings, parties, and store walk-arounds, and this year he will be the real Santa at the Bass Pro Shops in Clarksville, Indiana, just across the river from Louisville, but his most enjoyable event is something else entirely.
ï¿½I do an event for a daycare center that serves children with special needs,ï¿½ he says. ï¿½Thereï¿½s something very special when a mother lifts a child and places her on my lap. Itï¿½s a very emotional and spiritual experience.ï¿½
ï¿½Lots of children have that ï¿½Are you the real Santa?ï¿½ look in their eyes,ï¿½ says McCandless when talking about his many encounters over the last five years. ï¿½Thatï¿½s why our look is important. It is all in hopes of seeing the innocence last just a little bit longer and preserving the magic.ï¿½
McCandless recalls an unusual request he had that involved a 9-year-old ï¿½fence rider.ï¿½
ï¿½A father called and said he wanted to have one more year of innocence and belief from a daughter who was growing up far too fast for a father,ï¿½ recalls McCandless. ï¿½I was to arrive through an unlocked back door at 2 a.m., make lots of Santa noise, and be surprised when the family caught me. I was hoping it was not a practical joke on me or that I was being confused as a burglar. But it wasnï¿½t.ï¿½
Santa McCandless did indeed get caught, and after a few pictures were snapped as proof of his visit, he was gone. It was a short visit, but a childhood memory had been preserved for at least one more year.
Those expensive belts and buckles can sometimes set St. Nick back more than $400, depending on the level of custom work involved. And McCandless says more than twice that amount can be spent on a pair of ï¿½character toeï¿½ boots, the kind with the extra-large toe at the end and matching gold-plated buckles.
There are even white gloves with a magic red bulb in the index finger that lights up when touched to a childï¿½s nose. McCandless says he is ï¿½more of a traditional Santaï¿½ and does not wear lighted gloves, ï¿½which can sometimes scare kids.ï¿½
And thereï¿½s more: pine scented cologne, striped socks for the toy shop look, bloused sleeved Renaissance-style shirts in bright Christmas colors, themed suspenders, colored vests, and a gold pocket watch that shows the months of the year and not numbers.
Bob Karrick is a real Santa from Bowling Green, and like the others he enjoys this time of year.
ï¿½Iï¿½m often asked, ï¿½What is the hardest question Iï¿½ve gotten as Santa?ï¿½ï¿½ he says. ï¿½I was at the Jockey Club at Churchill Downs last November when a little girl came to me. Her mother had given her a racing form and told her daughter to have me pick a horse in the next race. I did and the horse didnï¿½t even place. I was glad I didnï¿½t run into the little girlï¿½s mother afterward.ï¿½
Karrick laughs and adds, ï¿½Had there been reindeer running in that race, Santa would have fared much better.ï¿½
Pattie tells a favorite story about a blue Santa suit he used to wear when being Santa for the University of Kentucky Alumni Association.
ï¿½It was their suit,ï¿½ he says. ï¿½And while working one of their events, I asked a little boy sitting on my lap what he wanted for Christmas.ï¿½ The boyï¿½s answer made him decide to give up the gig, and he has stuck with the traditional Santa wardrobe ever since.
ï¿½If itï¿½s all the same to you,ï¿½ the boy said, ï¿½Iï¿½ll tell the red Santa.ï¿½
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