When old Saint Nick walks into a room, expect an uproar. “One of my granddaughters was running around in circles,” Dan LeMaster said Sunday. “Another just wanted to hug him.” LeMaster recently had Santa Claus pay a visit to a family party, where more than 20 of his relatives were gathered. And when a granddaughter hugged Santa, “she turned around with a sparkle in her eye, and she was just in seventh heaven,” he said.
When old Saint Nick walks into a room, expect an uproar.
“One of my granddaughters was running around in circles,” Dan LeMaster said Sunday. “Another just wanted to hug him.”
LeMaster recently had Santa Claus pay a visit to a family party, where more than 20 of his relatives were gathered. And when a granddaughter hugged Santa, “she turned around with a sparkle in her eye, and she was just in seventh heaven,” he said.
Such reactions are not unusual for mild-mannered Chillicothian Chris Williamson — aka Santa Claus.
“They just light up when they’re around,” Williamson said, adding that there’s nothing quite like the burst of emotion from children. Williamson has been donning a red suit and dying his beard white for more than 32 years, and he has a rare devotion to his work.
He says he’s had people on his lap ranging from just a few days old to an 82-year-old woman, “and everywhere in between.”
His devotion to playing Kris Kringle is perhaps best illustrated by his intricate costume, which he custom-made for himself. Inspired by the film “A Miracle on 34th Street,” he constructed his first outfit from a red sweater of his father’s to play Saint Nick at his mother’s daycare center.
He’s been doing gigs as the jolly gift-giver ever since.
“You can’t buy ’em like this,” Williamson said of the microfiber suit with fuzzy fleece cuffs. Details include black-and-gold embroidered boots, a “magic key” for homes without chimneys and a row of brass buttons bearing the letter “S.”
“The devil’s in the details,” Williamson quipped. “And sometimes, so is the saint.”
Constructing such a costume can be tricky work. Working on it late at night in his basement a couple years ago, Williamson was careful not to reveal to his children the nature of his project. But a few loose strands of red fiber were unmistakable to his daughter Abigail, then five years old.
“I think I have evidence!” the girl said to her father.
“Evidence of what?” he asked.
The young girl replied: “Evidence of Santa Claus! I think he’s been here!”
Neisha Bohler of Bartonville, another recent fan of Williamson’s, said at a party for her son and his friends, Santa sang carols, asked kids about their behavior and recited the poem “’Twas The Night Before Christmas.”
“He made it real,” said Bohler of the visit. “He really got us all into it.”
Williamson said that the work of becoming Santa is all worth it when children react. “It’s like you’re the greatest hero in the world,” he said.
“Everyone loves Santa Claus.”
While he’s worked at corporate parties, children’s events, and innumerable other holiday celebrations, Williamson leads an appropriately giving life outside of the costume.
He works as a Resource Coordinator at Children’s Home in Peoria, licensing and monitoring foster parents. He’s also a part-time preacher in Bloomington, and he and his wife were foster parents themselves before they began adopting several years ago.
Williamson says he plans to continue playing the jolly saint as long as he can, saying “Where can you go where you walk in and everybody loves you?”
Rob Dale can be reached at (309) 686-3251 or at email@example.com.