“It brings the boy back out in the man,” said Santa Jeff Adams, 54, of Sylacauga. “I really enjoy it.”
Santa Jeff is an ordained minister, and is attending Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham.
He is also one of a special group of men who each year transform themselves into “the Jolly Old Elf,” spreading the message of joy, hope and giving.
“It can’t be about you,” Santa Jeff said. “It has to be about the season.”
Santa Jeff remembers a time when families would line up at the Sears, Roebuck and Company Department Store to see the big man in red.
Children would clutch their Christmas lists tightly in their small hands, anxiously awaiting their turn to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas.
A photographer would snap a picture that would remain in the family photo album forever, proof that they personally met the white-bearded man from the North Pole, who travels the world with a herd of flying reindeer named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and the most famous reindeer of all, Rudolf, with the red nose that shines so bright.
For Santa Jeff, and others like him, the Christmas season is his favorite time of the year.
He said there was once a time when things were not going so well. He was depressed. His wife, Janet, went to the wooden trunk that held the “family secret” and retrieved his Santa suit. She laid the suit out neatly for him to wear.
Just the sight of the suit and putting it on lifted his spirits.
“It’s a good way to feel good about the season, about giving,” Santa Jeff said.
He recalled first putting on a Santa suit. His youngest daughter was 3.
“I wanted to start a new family tradition,” Santa Jeff said.
His wife bought him a new suit, and he’s been wearing it since.
Santa Jeff admitted he didn’t know a lot about playing Santa Claus, but he did have the “gift of gab.” He talked a lot.
He played Santa for his nieces and nephews and eventually ventured out.
“I saw a need for going into the hospital,” Santa Jeff said. “I would go to the hospital a few days before Christmas.”
He then began to visit friends who had children, and he worked his way up to riding on fire trucks in the local Christmas parade, waving to the children who lined the streets to see Old St. Nick.
“It’s not to take away from the true meaning of Christmas,” Santa Jeff said.
He said Santa represents “giving,” and it’s also a way of spreading joy during a time when Jesus was born.
Santa Jeff said it’s a great feeling to walk into a room and bring smiles to the faces of both young and old.
“It’s fun seeing people you know and they don’t recognize you,” he said.
And as Christmas nears, Santa Claus is everywhere — churches, stores, shopping malls, hospitals and homes — spreading the Christmas spirit.
“Ho, Ho, Ho,” said Santa LaFain Freeman of Eastaboga.
His “Ho, Ho, Ho” was not too loud, not too soft. It was just right, perfect.
“I used to practice all the time,” Santa LaFain said. “It’s sort of natural for me now.”
Santa LaFain has taken his job as Santa to new heights.
“I actually started when I was in high school,” he said. “I did it for fun.”
Throughout the years, he played Santa off and on.
Three years ago, Santa LaFain joined the ranks of real-bearded Santas, and the 72-year-old man is a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, IBRBS for short.
Of course, he attended Santa School, where he learned the do’s and don’ts of being Santa, twice, first earning his bachelor’s and then his master’s in Santa Clausology.
Santa LaFain got involved with the world of reindeers, elves and bright colored red suits full time after he joined Santa America.
Santa America is a national volunteer service organization where Santas visit children and families in crisis, normally children and adults in hospitals or hospice care.
Although about 75 percent of his work as Santa is for charity and churches, he accepts paying gigs as well.
“I started full time last Friday,” Santa LaFain said. “I’m booked pretty solid. … The closer you get to Dec. 25, the busier it gets.”
And Santa LaFain, who attended Jacksonville State University and holds a bachelor’s degree in theology from Titus Baptist Bible College, stays busy during the holiday season. He is a choir director at his church and has a full-time job managing the packaging center for Consolidated Publishing Co. in Anniston.
Santa LaFain said Santa represents the spirit of giving and he likes to remind people of the real meaning of Christmas — which he often has the opportunity to do.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Santa LaFain admitted. “I did this as a hobby long before I did it as a professional.”
The paying visits help earn him money for suits, boots and the many things Santa needs when he goes out in public.
Most of Santa LaFain’s suits are original, custom made, professional Santa suits. Then there are the leather boots, three pairs, and wide leather belts to hold up Santa’s britches.
Santa LaFain has two traditional Santa suits with white, soft fur running down the middle of the jacket.
He also has an original custom-made Santa Coca-Cola suit with brass jacket buttons. The buttons have the names of Santa’s reindeer etched into them.
Santa LaFain also has the casual and vacation Santa look when he is just out and about.
It takes between 1 and 2 hours to transform into Santa, Santa LaFain and Santa Jeff said.
With a real beard, Santa LaFain said he is pretty much Santa 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, so he is always on his best behavior.
“You know they always say, ‘Be good because Santa is always watching,’” Santa LaFain said. “Well, Santa has to be good, too, because kids are always watching.”
He recalled walking into a local mall to repair a newspaper rack. It was in the food court of the mall.
“There were about 100 kids, third-graders, having lunch in the food court,” Santa LaFain said.
He worked as fast as he could to repair the newspaper box. He made the mistake of moving his glasses toward the end of his nose.
A young boy stood up from his seat, pointed and yelled out, “There’s Santa Claus.”
“The place was about to explode. I just waved, smiled and hurried out,” Santa LaFain said, giving a “Ho, Ho, Ho,” that was not too loud or too soft.
It was just right, perfect.