Santa hangs up his hat after visiting over 12,000 kids
BY BECKY GINOS
BOUNTIFUL—Now that Christmas is over Santa can rest until next year right? For one local man he’ll be doing the same because he’s been in Santa’s shoes for the last couple of months.
“At 10:30 Christmas Eve night I was done,” said Richard Stahle, who has been playing Santa for 30 years. “I’ve worked easily 200 hours (this season) and that’s conservative. I’ve seen more than 12,000 kids this year.”
Stahle became the jolly old elf about 30 years ago for the Clipper light parade. “I bought a cheap suit at Mac’s Hobby & Craft – it was 50 percent off,” he said. “I would add to my suit each year.”
It was really intense being Santa in the parade, he said, because everyone wanted to be seen by Santa. “I was going along Main Street and an old lady in her mid-80s blew me a kiss. I blew one back and she got all giddy,” said Stahle. “It’s also hard to do ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ for 45 minutes straight on top of all the noise. You have to do it right or you lose your voice.”
He’s been “Ho, Ho, Ho” ing at retirement centers, schools, churches, homes and RC Willey in addition to a regular gig at FotoFly in Kaysville. He even plays trombone for the West Jordan Band as Santa.
Along the way he’s had some memorable experiences. “I had two 100-year-olds sit on my lap this year and lots of twins,” he said. “One year a boyfriend and girlfriend sat on my lap then he got off and went down on one knee and proposed.”
Another time he was visiting a family with a severely autistic 6-year-old girl. “She didn’t want to sit on my lap but she finally gave me a fist bump then ran away,” he said. “Her mom started bawling because she’d never seen her do anything like that. I went up to her room and asked her if she wanted to ring one of the Christmas bells. She just gave them one tink. I gave her a hug and she sat on my lap. She’d never gotten that close to anybody.”
When the girl came back downstairs he asked her if she’d hold his hand. “She reached out and held it for about 20 seconds.”
Stahle said it’s fun to walk in and surprise the kids too. “Their eyes get big like saucers when they hear the bells,” he said. “I tell them stories about how Rudolph is mischievous and hides my bells, etc. I say I have a squad of six elves who help me find what he hides.”
He loves to tell the children that Rudolph took a video of Santa sleeping and snoring out “Jingle Bells.” “I start to pretend to fall asleep and snore ‘Jingle Bells’ and the kids will say ‘wake up,’” said Stahle.
When someone asks him if he’s the real Santa he has an answer at the ready. “It’s usually about my beard,” he said. “I go back to my best friend Rudolph. I tell them that after he took the video he took my candy canes and licked them all then wrapped them in my beard and hair so I had to shave it off. Then I look them in the eye and say ‘am I the real Santa?’ About 99 percent say ‘yes.’”
Even his grandchildren believe he’s the real deal. “They see my suit and beard around the house and start giggling because they know,” said Stahle. “But they can’t tell their friends, they have to keep it a secret.”
The proceeds from what he earns are earmarked for a humanitarian trip with his wife to an orphanage in Uganda in the spring.
“There are 75 children there,” said Stahle. “I just sent $250 to repair the bricks in the bathroom because they were crumbling and falling down on the children.”
Stahle has lost about 120 pounds so next year he’ll have to add a belly, but he intends to keep being Santa’s helper. “I come home and crash every night,” he said. “But it’s a good feeling. I like to bring joy to kids and families. It’s these experiences that make it precious.”