Santa in the South
Article by Vanelis Rivera & Photography by Martin G. Meyers
Away from the frigid winters of the North Pole, Santa has made his home right here in North Louisiana under the alias of Robert. K Wilson. This year, he’s given BayouLife a sneak peek into his merry life.
Santa Claus and his North Pole crew certainly have a stringent work schedule as November winds down and December emerges in a haze of colorful lights, pine trees, and holiday cookies. But before the Yuletide countdown and the bustle of the season begins, the life of the chubby-cheeked man in red has long been shrouded in myth and hearsay — until now! Away from the frigid winters of the North Pole, Santa has made a life in Monroe, Louisiana, and this year, has decided to give us a glimpse into his warm-weather home.
Santa goes by many names — Saint Nicholas, St. Nick, Kris Kringle, and Father Christmas. However, before the holiday season, during his time in Monroe, Santa goes by Robert K. Wilson, and the costume he generally wears is that of a licensed realtor at Keller Williams.
Santa Wilson does not shy away from keeping the Christmas spirit year round, especially at work. It’s hard to miss the three-foot, vintage wood sled leaning in front of his desk, and the Santa figurines and holiday collectables that decorate his only shelf. Even his ringtone, a stream of hearty ho ho ho’s, is an indicator that this white-bearded, kind-faced man, may be more than just a Christmas enthusiast — he may be the real thing.
Before settling in the South, Santa Wilson resided in Highland, Indiana, where he got into the bowling business, which he recalls as a “Midwestern-type thing” to do. At the time, he was managing a bowling center where a ladies league was prominent. As part of the appeal, the bowling center had a daycare. During the holiday season, a Santa would be expected to visit the children. Without knowing that Wilson was the real Santa, his boss thrust him into the job. It was the first time he put on a fake suit and beard.
In 1996, Santa moved to Monroe and bought into local bowling centers and further immersed himself into the community by joining the Kiwanis Club, the organizers of the annual Christmas Parade. In the planning stages of that year’s parade, the former Santa, who had been doing the job for 20 years, was ready to pass the red Santa hat along. The Kiwanis Club needed a Santa who could get up and down the fire truck, a temporary replacement of Santa’s sleigh. Without hesitation, Santa Wilson was up for the task. He dismissed the team’s offer to get him a suit, exclaiming, “I got my own suit, don’t worry about it. I’ve been Santa for a while.”
For 20 years now, Santa Wilson has acted as the Santa of the Christmas parade, and has no plans of passing his Santa hat down, affirming, “This is my parade!”
About five years ago, a beardless Santa was approached by the Children’s Museum and asked to be their Santa. He agreed, knowing it was time to reveal his true identity, which began with his beard. “When you do up close and personal work, kids can see,” Santa Wilson told BayouLife Magazine.
He’s had kids grab his beard, pull on his pristinely waxed moustache, and snatch his hat. Yet, his dedication to the process of transforming back into Kris Kringle remains a labor of love. “Depending on the Louisiana winters,” his beard may fluctuate in length but he is resolute in the duty of keeping the spirit of believing alive, especially in children. As he explains, “We want children to grow up so fast, but life is short. Why crush their hopes and dreams when they’re five?”
As should be expected, Santa has a genuine interest in the lives of the children who visit him. Known for asking children questions about schools, their hobbies, and home lives, Santa has a steady following of parents on his Facebook page who are eager to take their kids wherever he happens to show up.
In spite of being an advocate for children, Santa is also on parents’ side. He does not hesitate to say no to kids or challenge their wish lists. He’s been around long enough to notice the changing toy trends, but holds firmly that Christmas gifts should somehow ignite a child’s imagination, creativity, and possibility. He has said no to four- and eight-year-olds asking for iPhones, kindly pushing them to think of age appropriate items. Sometimes he offers his own gift ideas, based on his personal toy trend research inspired by trips to Walmart. (Insider scoop, Santa thinks Hatchimals “will make another run at it again.”) Parents, inform your kids that if they plan to ask for a four-wheeler, Santa has a message for them: four-wheelers are too expensive and hard to fit in his gift bag.
It’s hard to deter Santa from his natural jollity, however, his experiences on “the chair” have at times been challenging. He’s had children sit on his lap, and, with unwavering hope, ask him to bring their “mommy” back — the one gift he wished his Christmas magic could provide. On the other hand, parents can, at times, be a source of frustration. “I could overhear the parents standing in line complaining how long it was taking and the occasional, ‘Come on’ and naturally all the huffing and puffing, ” Santa Wilson said. He’s had to explain to parents, “I will help them get a great memory picture. I will take as many pictures as they want or need. I will talk with their children and we WILL HAVE A GOOD TIME. IT’S CHRISTMAS!”
Santa is often scooped up for photo shoots, recently finishing one with Shannon Luther Photography and Albritton Photography. He’s been known to do his famous crying-Santa face if he ever sits with a crying infant, which makes for an entertaining family photo. “We always have our fair share of screamers, cryers and panic stricken children but it’s always a hoot to see all the babies. I always wonder what they are thinking? Who will they be when they grow up? Where will life take them?” Santa recollected.
After many years on the job, Santa believes that “we are all in too much of a hurry to get to the next event or next stop.” He encourages us, now more than ever, “to stop along the way and enjoy the little pleasures of life. The smile or giggles of a child, the deep belly laugh of an adult or better yet, the sweet taste of a Christmas cookie.” His message to us is significant in its simplicity — “Never stop believing. It’s about giving, not receiving. Bake cookies. Enjoy family. BE GOOD. This time of year is when people come together to reconnect,” reflects Santa. “No matter what, good family, bad family and, yes, even crazy family are all important.”
The big man in the red super suit is “the possibility of all possibilities,” and if you have kids, he wants you to help them hang on to that as best you can.
Take the whole family to visit our guest from the far North at Santa’s Christmas Village held at the Children’s Museum. The event is open from November 18th to December 23rd, Thursday-Sunday. Specific times are listed in the Children’s Museum Facebook page.
If you would like to take family photos with Santa or are interested in reading his holiday blog, follow his Facebook page @believeinsanta.