Being Santa Claus at Christmas means more than renting a red suit. It is a calling that transforms a person. Each Ho, Ho, Ho nurtures a spark that will twinkle the eye and warm the heart.
Ed Keller knows this spark. He has been Santa Claus for the past 50 years, starting out in Helper and most recently journeying down from the North Pole to take up residence at the Santa Shack in Sugar House. “I have so much fun doing what I do. The kids are just precious,” he says.
There have been lots of kids over the years. Families have been bringing their children to sit on his lap for generations, stroking his yak fur beard and whispering secrets about what they want under the tree. To parents’ relief, he tells children that since he has many homes to visit, he only has room in his bag for three gifts.
“I spend at least five minutes with each child. I never hurry them along.” But there were also times that Santa spent more than five minutes.
Keller recalls, “Once a mother came to me and said the father of her three sons died a week before Christmas, and that ‘the kids are totally lost.’ I spent an hour talking with the boys and told them, ‘Your father is still watching out for you.’ The mother came in later, saying that the boys felt so much better. All I did was just talk with them.”
Santa may speak with words, but what people hear are kindness and goodness. It’s not a question of believing in Santa—it’s a question of needing Santa to remind us of our higher calling. “I just try to instill the spirit of Christmas into people. It is very important for us to know how good we can be. Especially for children, I want them to realize the world is more than just fun and presents,” Keller explains.
Keller gears up each November by watching Christmas movies, with the original Miracle on 34th Street a perennial favorite. He also looks at his scrapbook full of children’s drawings. “I keep all of them,” he says.
Then of course, there are the reindeer to feed, the sleigh to load, and the route to plan. “I tell kids I reach everyone by zigzagging across the International Date Line.” After this exhausting night is over, Mrs. Claus has a cup of cocoa and a chocolate chunk cookie waiting for him. Then they take a vacation to someplace warm with sandy beaches, such as Christmas Island.
But the vacation is brief because Santa spends the other 11 months seeing who is naughty and nice, and keeping alive the spark of Christmas. Keller says, “If I could be Santa all year round, that’s for me.”