By Jim & Donna Hopkins
Three years ago, we were approached by the owners of the Greenville and Western Railway to see if we would be interested in being Mr. and Mrs. Clause. The couple that had been doing it for almost ten years was not going to be able to perform the task due to her having health issues. He did not want to continue without her.
Since my wife and I had been helpers on the train ourselves for many years we were honored to be asked to take over the duties under these circumstances. After much thought we accepted the position but with a small difference. We asked that instead of using a traditional Santa costume on the train could we come up with a variation in costume to make a “Railroad Santa”. So, Santa wears more of a railroad type work uniform instead of what is normally seen in the mall. I wear red overalls, a white shirt with a bandana and a red work style jacket. I do wear a traditional hat and have white trim on my sleeves and legs. Mrs. Clause wears a white blouse with red lace trim, a red skirt with a white apron and a beautiful red cape with a large collar that can be over her head as a hood. Mrs. Clause and her sister designed and sewed her costume, so it is a custom-made affair. We have been doing the Santa Train for three years, but Mrs. Clause was sick last year and was sorely missed by all the children.
It started out that we were only doing the Santa Train, but were asked if we would do an event for the train club that we are members of at their museum in the depot in Spartanburg. So, the weekend after the Santa Train we make an appearance at the Hub City Railroad Museum in Spartanburg. This year’s event will be a drive by visit with Santa.
Since we were doing the event in Spartanburg we were asked by another group in that city if we would like to do some events for kids at the Farmer’s Table Restaurant in conjunction with the Hub City Kids group that puts on events for kids. We decided to work with them for the first-time last year and it has proven to be a good partnership.
Our experience and the “Clause Couple” have grown even more this year because we were asked by a local photographer if we would work with him. He approached us at a local Easley restaurant after we had eaten breakfast there on our way to the Spartanburg Museum event last year. This was our first year in that venture and it seems to have also been a success.
For the events that are not railroad related, I had to get a traditional costume to wear. I started out with a costume that my mother-in-law had made for my father-in-law many years ago. There had to be some renovation done to make it fresh, so my wife’s sister put her skills to work again for me. My wife and her sister have made me a nice traditional Santa suit for when I cannot be the railroad version.
Being Santa and Mrs. C. has been a joy for us. Our first love is the Santa Train. The railroad is only eleven miles long, but we make five stops on those eleven miles. Each community along the way has a stop where children and parents line up to come on board the red caboose to meet Santa and Mrs. Clause. Every child has pictures taken by a professional photographer, receives a special “monogramed ticket” made specifically for that year as a keepsake, a candy bar, and a bag of goodies. The bag of goodies varies a little each year but always seems to have some personal care items like toothbrush, toothpaste and other things in it. It also contains a Bible or Testament as well as a toy and sometime a message about being safe around trains from Operation Lifesaver. Parents are given a gift as well.
Every child and every adult receive a ticket for a drawing that is held at each stop after all the children are seen by Santa. The railway and other sponsors provide a host of toys for each stop; the same items are given at every location with little variation. The grand prizes at each stop are two Lionel train sets, one of them being the “Polar Express”. Special needs children or adults that are unable to board the train are visited by Santa personally, either outside the train or in their automobile.
Being Santa and Mrs. Clause has been a rewarding experience for us. Seeing the joy on children’s faces when we talk with them and ask them what they want for Christmas makes us feel as if we are a good influence on them at such a young age. Knowing that we have touched their lives is heartwarming in a special way. Sometimes we may be the only joy that these kids will have at this time of year. We do not know the story behind each of their home lives; we are not there to judge them. We are there to make them feel special for just a few moments. To know that we might be some sort of a role model to help shape the future of what they might become is a reward for us. To some of them we might provide the only Christmas that they have.
We know that not all the children we see have needs other than to have the opportunity to share a little visit with Santa. Trying to make sure that the children enjoy the experience of seeing Santa can be difficult at time also. Children react to Santa in different ways at different ages. Sometimes a little boy or girl comes in just bursting to spend a moment with us only to break out in tears and try to hide behind Mommy or Daddy. If you can give them just a few minutes all of that may change. Some of the most rewarding pictures with Santa are of a child crying or screaming. We just never know how they will react.
The best feeling in the world is when a child comes up and gives you a big hug! We never try to promise any child that we can deliver their list of items; we only say we will see what we can do. I certainly don’t want to make a promise that can’t be kept.
At every event that we go to, we try to make sure that each child has the same attention, to be in the spotlight with Santa or Mrs. Clause for that one golden moment. That is what makes the responsibility of doing this at Christmas so special for us.