Donning Santa's red suit runs in the family after all

Susan Manzke
Susan's dad loved playing Santa, even in his early adult years.

I can’t think of Christmas without remembering my father. Dad loved playing Santa, even in his early adult years. It might have had something to do with growing up in the Great Depression. Sharing what he had was what Dad did, even if it was only handing out peppermint sticks.

The earliest I remember meeting my dad as Santa was when  I was five years old. Since Dad was young and not too heavy, he had to adapt his costume. A pillow stuffed inside his red suit did the trick for the needed weight, but Dad did more. He bought a Santa mask, beard and all.

Whoever created that mask had an odd idea of what Santa looked like. The face was of a very scary old man with wrinkles and warts.

The first time Dad dressed in this getup he sent children running for the hills—mostly my cousins. This fear surprised Dad but he didn’t give up. He just ditched the mask and donned a white fluffy beard. That way he didn’t scare most of the neighborhood children—no Santa can claim never to have scared any children. The youngest ones fear him and cry when asked to sit on his lap.

Susan's mother Izzy sits with "Santa" along with Robby and Becky in 1977.

During our last Christmas in Illinois (1977), Santa came to visit our mobile home. Robby took to him right away. There were no tears when it came time for our little boy to sit on Santa’s lap. Even one-year-old Rebecca did her duty and went up to Santa, too.

Years later, my father brought his suit to Seymour. By this time, we had toddler Russell and little Rachel. Both were excited to see Santa, too bad their big brother and sister recognized their grandfather. Rob and Rebecca started laughing and almost ruined it for the little ones. It took threats from me to keep them quiet. They wouldn’t have only ruined Santa’s visit for the little ones, they would have spoiled it for my dad, too.

Susan says she can’t think of Christmas without remembering her father who derived so much joy from playing Santa for both young and old.

One time, Santa was scheduled to visit a houseful of relatives, some of the older cousins knew what to expect but didn’t say a word. They didn’t want to get coal after all.

Anyway, Santa walked in the front door with a bag filled with gifts, ho-ho-hoing as he walked, just like he always had in the past. Then, to my cousins' surprise, my dad followed Santa into the house. Mouths fell open. The joke was on all those who thought they knew who was dressed in red. Dad and his stand-in Santa had the best laugh ever.

Dad played Santa in church, kneeling at the manger before walking out to the vestibule to hand out candy canes.

Dad went to his heavenly reward in 1991, but now there is a new Santa in the family. My son, Rob slipped into a white-trimmed red suit this December. I believe he was volunteered for the job by his wife, Tara. The Small Business Association of Stevens Point was having a special event and they needed someone to fill the suit. Of course, like my dad in his youth, Rob needed extra padding to give his jolly old elf the right look.  He also needed white whiskers and wig, too.

Dressed for the Saturday event, Rob journeyed up and down the downtown area, helping everyone celebrate Small Shop Saturday.

Following in his grandfather's footsteps, Susan's son, Rob dons Santa's red suit helping shoppers to celebrate Small Shop Saturday recently in Stevens Point.

It’s a sure thing that Grandpa Chuck (aka Santa) would have been proud of his grandson (aka Santa 2021).

Of course, we all know that the real Santa Claus doesn’t have time to sit in stores in December. He’s too busy. Having stand-ins makes his life a little simpler.

We’ll see if there are other Santas out there. Who knows? I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a couple waiting in the wings to don that red suit. It runs in the family after all.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller rd, Seymour, WI 54165;;