The hall is decked and the sweet smells of holiday goodies fill the room as residents of Bridgeview Estates filter in. It’s the annual Christmas party, and the residents of the Twin Falls assisted living center are surrounded by their children and grandchildren, all basking in jolly anticipation.
The Idaho Old Time Fiddlers perform holiday favorites to the approval of a toe-tapping audience. Then, as the fiddlers play “Here Comes Santa Claus,” a gale of “Ho-ho-ho!” echoes through the hall.
“Meeeeerry Christmas! Ho-ho-ho!”
The elderly’s eyes light up as much as the children’s when Santa Claus enters the room, giving out hugs and candy canes to everyone in sight.
“He is the perfect Santa Claus,” says Colleen Coates, who helps organize the Christmas party each year. “I tell everybody this is the real Santa – he looks like Santa, he’s jolly, he has rosy cheeks, he jumps around and dances. If you could see him in action, he’s just Santa.”
For the past 20 years, Filer resident Larry Evans, a.k.a. Santa Claus, has been delivering much more than candy canes and presents to southern Idaho. Larry has a special gift – one that allows him to touch the hearts of those he visits.
“When I put on my suit, I feel like the real Santa,” he says.
The Bridgeview Estates Christmas party was just one of over 300 appearances Larry made as Kris Kringle last season. He already had over 10 gigs booked as early as September this year. He visits family parties – big and small – as well as schools, businesses and churches. He’s had some of the same clients for 17 years.
“Larry is one of those Santas that, once you’ve had him, there is no comparison. You don’t really look around for anybody else,” says Jennifer Brizee, who grew up a believer and now has Santa visit her children. “You make sure you’re on his list early, always and forever.”
Christmas Eve is Larry’s busiest day. He starts early in the morning and doesn’t stop until 1 a.m. (he drives a shiny red truck, of course). For the past 5 years, Larry’s last stop has been to Dan and Jennifer Brizee’s home, where he quietly delivers presents to their two children while they sleep. The parents take pictures and videotape to show their kids in the morning that Santa had been there.
“He’s really a people-person, so I think he really enjoys ‘playing the role’ – but I don’t think he’s ‘playing.’ That’s just who he is. It’s not an act. He is such a jolly, gracious, kind person. His Santa Claus persona does not go away when he takes off the red suit.”
If anyone was ever destined to be Santa Claus, it was Larry. He has all the physical traits, right down to the soft blue eyes that twinkle when he talks about the precious children he meets. His beard started turning white in his 30s and his hearty, yet tender, voice puts the icing on the gingerbread house.
But its Larry’s endearing personality that makes him seem like a true St. Nicholas.
“I have never seen a child be afraid of him,” Jennifer says. “He’s really good with kids – and with adults who are really kids at heart.”
After all, Larry is just a kid at heart, too. He first became the Jolly Old Elf when he was asked to dress up for a few family parties. Word began to spread and soon Larry’s fame grew bigger and bigger each year. At first, he did it for free. But as expenses grew, Larry began charging minimal fees to help with costs of travel and a new costume. He’s worth every penny. Retired since 1991, Larry uses his Santa earnings to help support his wife and 9-year-old grandson, who he has guardianship over while the boy’s mother serves our country in Iraq.
“People encouraged me to charge, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be charging,” he says. “I really want to be doing this for the kids.”
Larry has a heart bigger than the North Pole. But in 1996, that heart gave out on him when he suffered a severe heart attack. Three stents, three angiograms and several angioplasties later, Larry’s ticker keeps going. Last year his heart passed its first stress test in 10 years and his diabetes are in check. Throw in a pair of knee replacements in 2006 and Santa can now have kids sit on his knees, pain-free.
“Sometimes the kids ask for a million dollars,” he says. “I always tell them, ‘At your age, if you had a million dollars, you really wouldn’t be happy with it and you wouldn’t want to have all the problems that come with it. I think you just ought to have peace and joy, love your parents, have a nice childhood, and just grow up and be happy.’”
Requests that Santa receives from children on his knee are heartfelt. Last year, a timid 4-year-old asked for “Peace on Earth and good will toward men.” On more than one occasion, a child has asked him, “Santa, could you please help get rid of Mama’s cancer?”
“If you don’t have love and joy in your heart, kids can feel it,” Larry says. “Being Santa is an important job and you don’t want to take it lightly. When you’re touching people’s lives, you have to have the desire in your heart.”
A religious man, Larry sees his service as a type of ministry. The 2,500 candy canes that he distributes each year come with the Christmas story or a Bible verse printed on them. Some of his most memorable visits are when someone sponsors Christmas for a less-fortunate family and asks him to do the delivery. He lives for the moments when he enters the room and sees tears of joy.
“I’m not only a person who can give joy and happiness and presents to people, but I’m also some kind of a psychologist because sometimes I help people with problems I didn’t even know they had.”
Larry has a lot of fun delivering presents; one time he even delivered a horse. He says he’ll do anything for people, as long as it’s legal. He eats more than enough milk and cookies (chocolate milk is his favorite). But Larry’s biggest delight is seeing the joy and sparkle in the children’s eyes.
“I touch people’s hearts, I give them life, I give them joyfulness, I give them encouragement. I give them new meaning to what Christmas is – it’s not just another day.”
“If you don’t have love and joy in your heart, kids can feel it. Being Santa is an important job and you don’t want to take it lightly.”
To have Santa Claus visit you this year call 208-326-5258
or visit www.idahosanta.com