His “Ho, ho, ho,” and red suit mean Christmas is on its way; and to many children, Santa is Christmas. But to many men who play Santa, it’s a year-round job, including three whose personal North Poles are all near each other, in or around southern Cleburne County.
Johnny Johnson, 63, of Delta, said he’s stopped all the time by children who recognize his Santa-esque physique, white hair and beard. He always makes time for the children, he said.
“If you hurt a kid’s feelings, they’ll never forget it,” Johnson said.
Norman Williamson, 75, who’s played Santa for about 12 years, is also easily recognizable as Santa even in his summer wear.
“I can go up beside some kids that’s acting up and they’ll just calm down right quick,” said Williamson, who lives in Chulafinnee, south of Heflin.
Williamson has had cards made with his picture on them along with “You have been caught being,” followed by space to check either “nice” or “naughty.” He hands them out all year long, Williamson said.
Johnson started playing Santa about nine years ago after he was asked by a photography studio to pose with children for pictures with Santa. His wife, who had been trying to convince him to step into the role for years, talked him into it, Johnson said.
Once he started, he said, he really enjoyed interacting with the children.
“To see the look on the kids’ face when they’re happy with me,” Johnson said, is the reward for him.
Johnson works with three photography studios to pose as Santa and volunteers at local churches on a regular basis. He also has done some local Christmas parades.
After his daughter posted his picture online, he was discovered by New Jersey-based Cherry Hill Photo, and offered a job as a mall Santa in Montgomery.
Williamson said working as Santa has given him insight into the minds of children.
“You get some of the most heart-wrenching stories and some of the most uplifting stories from children,” Williamson said.
The other Santas agreed. Children have asked if Santa can bring dead relatives or absent parents back to them or if he can bring soldiers home from war or promise that their favorite team will win a championship, the men said. The children have also brought him gifts including a handmade afghan, Williamson added.
Williamson said his faith guides him when he talks to the children. He’s never been lost for words to respond to any request, Williamson said.
“I pray about it and the Lord will always give me something to say,” he said.
Glenn Price agreed. Price, 67, and his wife Carolyn, who also live in the Hollis Crossroads area, play Santa and Mrs. Claus. Price can get tears in his eyes, he said, but he’s always found a way to soothe children.
One little girl, about 4 or 5, asked if he’d bring her sister home; her sister had been killed in an accident, Price said. He drew on his faith and told the girl that her sister was living with Jesus now.
“She said, ‘Oh, nobody never told me that,’” Price said.
Price has been playing Santa since he was a teenager. He started with a fake beard and hair. Now, at 67 his white hair and beard are real. He was also hired by Cherry Hill Photo and in 2005 he and his wife worked in a mall in Tupelo, Miss. He said they loved the experience. Working at a mall brings a diverse group — from babies to senior citizens — to Santa’s lap, said Williamson.
Williamson’s oldest “child” was a 94-year-old woman who said she had never before sat on Santa’s lap but wanted to have her picture taken with him.
Johnson said he doesn’t call himself a professional Santa. He feels like it’s a higher calling.
“People call me and I try to help them,” Johnson said. “Since the Lord saved me, I need to do what I can for him.”
Staff writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.