Sporting a Hawaiian shirt and red shorts with his signature bushy white beard, Santa Claus stands out in any crowd, even in the middle of summer. And it would be hard to argue that his distinct look doesn’t radiate a magnetic kind of manliness, before he ever says a word. But to the famous local figure who enjoys not only engaging with people everywhere but also spending time with family and more solitary outdoor pursuits like bird-watching, hunting and fishing, masculinity is about a lot more than just appearances.
“I think the most important attribute for a man is humility. Humility is being able to respect other people, regardless of who they are, what they look like, how they act, the color of their skin… It’s all irrelevant. If I’m practicing humility, I’m just enjoying people, showing preference for others,” Santa explains. Naturally gregarious, he certainly practices what he preaches, effortlessly bringing out a confidence or a smile in whomever happens to be nearby. He has a way of drawing out even the shyest of children, whether he’s at his day job as a greeter at Home Depot, or in his official Santa uniform in the winter months, as Lead Santa at Bass Pro Shop.
Though he can often be overheard asking the children he meets if they’ve been naughty or nice, Santa takes an opportunity to teach, not reprimand those who admit they haven’t been entirely well-behaved all year. “This is the most important message that I have for children: Forgiveness. (To kids who have misbehaved) I say, ‘Are you sorry you did it? Do you want to be forgiven? Then you need to go to the person you hurt, and say I’m sorry. And then there’s one last thing – you don’t do it again.’” Rather than playing the bad guy, Santa prefers to help children learn from their mistakes, and the results of this method are almost instantaneous. “You see the smiles come back on their faces; you see the release,” he affirms.
Santa’s favorite moments, however, are when he is able to touch the lives of special-needs children and their families. Recalling a visit to a day care for children with special needs, he remembers a mother who lifted her 17-year-old son to sit in his lap. “All that child could do was look at me,” Santa shares. “I just began to cry. For me it was just wonderful. I thought, why me? Why am I privileged to have this experience with this beautiful child? …To see the depth of his love, the depth of his mother’s love for him, it made me think, how great the love of our Father must be.”
He may have a way with children, but they aren’t the only people to whom Santa aims to bring joy. As official Santa for the Louisville Lightning soccer team, he delights in seeing the athletes – tough, grown men – warm up and have fun with him, perhaps recalling childhood experiences. In his day-to-day life he is approached by almost as many excited adults as young people, and is just as quick to inspire a laugh or a hug.
“My goal is to capture the child in every person, regardless of age,” Santa smiles. “Because that’s the appeal that Santa has – to the child in you.”