That’s where his helpers come into play.
One such helper lives in Grand Haven, and when Santa can’t make it to local events, this man — he’s known as Big Stan — dons his big red suit and fills in.
“I do it because it’s fun, and it’s part of the Christmas spirit,” Big Stan said.
Big Stan began helping Santa maybe six or seven years ago, when his prodigious beard began to turn gray.
“I just fell into it because somebody said I look like Santa,” he said. “So, years ago, I bought a cheap suit, and people would ask, ‘Hey, I hear you play Santa,’ and I’d say sure, and go do what people ask — show up to private parties for kids at their houses. I’m doing one for autistic kids Friday night, because they have trouble standing in line.”
This year, Big Stan was honored to represent Santa in Grand Haven’s annual downtown Jingle Bell Parade.
“That’s secretly been a life-long dream of mine,” he said.
Big Stan said there are some Santa schools across the country, including one in Michigan, but he’s never attended one. He does, however, follow Santa’s rules.
“You put on Santa’s suit, you become Santa,” he said. “You don’t have conversation talking about the weather or sports. Somebody calls me by name, I won’t answer. I’m in the suit, I maintain the character. I got that from some other Santas, and also from a Hallmark Christmas movie. When you’re in the suit, you play the part to the max.”
Big Stan’s fluffy white beard helps him play the part.
“I do grow out my beard, but it’s not down to my waste — I’m what they call the more modern Santa,” he said. “I have my own beard. Sometimes kids say they want to see if I’m the real Santa, and they’ll tug on my beard.”
Even when he’s not in costume, Big Stan gets a lot of long looks from kids.
“I’ve had people come up to me, stare at me, and I know exactly what they’re thinking,” he said. “I’ll give them a little wink and a little ‘ho, ho, ho’ just to let them know that Santa’s around.”
He’s also been asked, quite frequently, what’s his favorite type of cookie.
Big Stan certainly has his finger on the pulse of the wishes of kids across the area. This year, many boys are hoping for Lego sets, while the young girls are hoping for a Hatchimal.
“The older children want the latest iPhone,” he said. “I had one little boy who said he wanted a Lego set, but not the main headquarters, because he spied and saw that his parents already bought that for him. It was hilarious. And someone always wants a puppy.”
While Santa is the one who hears the wishes of children everywhere, Big Stan also tries to remind kids that the season is about more than just receiving.
“I try to ask the children, ‘What do you want to give someone this year?’” he said. “I try to foster the giving, not just the receiving. It’s a season of giving. That’s why I do it — to be a part of the Christmas spirit.”