One of the most enduring traditions of the winter holiday season is the story of Santa Claus. Based on the stories of a third century saint from what is now Turkey, Santa Claus — or Saint Nicholas, or Father Christmas — is a crucial part of the childhood of most Christian (and many non-religious) Americans. He’s part fantasy, part fairy tale, part thinly veiled threat. He’s magic, of course — and perhaps the most powerful aspect of his magic is that he’s an adult who actually takes the time to listen to children.
However, we all know that Santa can’t be everywhere at once. I mean, that’s just silly. So here in the U.S., far from Santa’s home in the North Pole, countless helpers don the quintessential red suit and white beard and embody the spirit of Christmas for kids of all ages (750 Santas were present at the 2016 Santa Convention in Branson, Missouri). Little Village got to know one of them.
Cedar Rapids’ Chad Canfield has been Santa for five years. “When I put on the suit, I become Santa,” he said. “That’s it.” His season runs roughly from Thanksgiving through Dec. 24, though he’s had gigs as late as January before for private parties. He spreads cheer through public appearances at places such as Orange Leaf South, SkyZone Trampoline Park and the Paramount Theater, as well as doing private appearances and photo shoots. He answered a few questions for us about his time as the man in red.
What kind of pressures come with taking on the iconic role — what’s the closest you’ve ever come to breaking character in front of a child?
The biggest pressure comes from not promising a child the high ticket Christmas gifts. I don’t want their hearts to be broken if they don’t get that big present. What I do promise them is that Santa will have a very special present, just for them, under their tree.
The closest to breaking character — that’s a tough one. There was one time, when I was Santa at Alisabeth Von Presley’s studio: The studio was packed with families waiting for a photo when my beard got stuck on someone’s bracelet (I glue mine on), and as they walked away, it almost took off my beard. I caught it in time, but it did hurt a little.
What role did Santa play in your life when you were a child?
My mother worked very hard to keep the magic alive until I was well into my teenage years. For real. Maybe I was gullible, or something, but I believed in Santa until sometime in high school. Even then, I wasn’t sure.
Who are you when you’re not Santa — what’s your January-November job?
My day job, I work in hospital customer service for a company called Avadyne Health. I’ve been with them over 12 years. To supplement my income, I am a freelance artist, actor, emcee, photographer — basically, I’m a jack of all trades.
What’s the most unusual thing a child has ever requested?
Last year, I kid you not, with a straight face — I had a little boy, about 10 years old, ask me for, “Duct tape and rope.” I looked at his mother, who just nodded.
How do you keep the magic alive in your own life?
We have three children. Our oldest, Zach, is 26; he lives outside of our house, but every Christmas he stays the night. Our Daughter Zoe is 15; she is “in on the secret.” She helps me keep the magic alive for her little sister Zada, who is 11. Zada knows I become Santa, and understands that Santa can’t be everywhere at once and needs people to “stand in” for him from time to time.
For a Santa on Christmas Eve, it’s a very, very busy day. Luckily, my wife Kristina helps out as Mrs. Claus. We schedule visits from mid-morning until mid-afternoon. Then we take a four hour break, to celebrate Christmas at Kristina’s parent’s house. We have a nice meal and open presents. Then we are booked all evening.
After our visits, we will pick up our kids and head home.
It’s kind of magical, to see the look on our oldest children’s faces when they walked into the house (knowing that Mom and Dad were busy spreading Christmas cheer) only to find that Santa has visited our house and delivered his gifts while we were out.
Leading up to Christmas, Kristina has a knack for finding random road trips for us to go on. We visit holiday light displays; we made a trip to Galena to see the “Living Windows” display; we also attended the live Nativity in Mt Vernon. She keeps us busy.