Spreading joy to the nation

Written by on December 24, 2020


“Hearken to what they need for Christmas,” veteran Santa actor Dave Greulich tells mother and father. “Generally what they actually need has nothing to do with toys.” Des Moines Register

AMES, Iowa – A line of kids in puffy coats and colourful face masks waited on a sidewalk in Ames because the mid-December solar started to set.

Fifteen lit-up Christmas inflatables organized round a suburban garden – reindeer, elves, snowmen – illuminated their excited faces as they waited with their mother and father for an out of doors go to with Santa Claus.

“We aren’t actually going to malls or something this yr,” Cason Clark defined, his two kids in tow. “We had visited this final yr. He is a extremely good Santa.”

At that, the person himself, recognized domestically as “Santa Ames,” walked previous the household, bells on his leather-based boots jingling with every heavy step. He threw a luxurious crimson coat over his crimson velvet go well with and, on his method to his sleigh, stopped beside the Clark household.

“Oh, what’s that? What’s that there?” Santa stated, pointing a gloved finger at 4-year-old Lola Clark’s winter coat. She seemed down, puzzled.

“Ope!” He laughed and gently tapped her nostril. “I gotcha.”

Though the COVID-19 pandemic is in its ninth month, the Christmas spirit has endured for youngsters and Santa Clauses alike. Sans the lap-sitting and hugs of years previous, the custom continues in central Iowa as Santas greet kids on out of doors units, from behind makeshift protecting boundaries and thru laptop screens.

(A word to our youthful readers: Spoilers forward!)

A 17th season not like some other

Santa Ames additionally goes by Dave Greulich. The jolly 68-year-old invited Des Moines Register journalists into his work-from-home Santa house, a comfortable inexperienced workplace with two synthetic Christmas timber, every spinning slowly behind his chair. Dozens of Santa collectible figurines line the partitions.

“It is form of a subscription,” he stated, gazing on the assortment of ceramic Santas carrying cookies and presents. “Each month, you get three of them.”

Greulich has been enjoying Santa for practically twenty years. His first look was 17 years in the past at a Kmart. Earlier than he might even make it to the set inside, he recalled, just a little lady noticed him within the car parking zone and broke from her dad’s facet to dash towards him.

“I received down on one knee and opened up my arms to her, and he or she bumped into (me) and practically knocked me over and actually melted into my arms and stated, ‘I like you, Santa,'” he remembers.

“That is too good,” he recalled pondering. “I am doing this the remainder of my life.”

Since then, Greulich has appeared as Santa at malls, personal occasions, and for the previous seven years, in his entrance yard. He asks visiting households to carry canned items, which he donates to Ames meals financial institution Meals at First. Greulich estimates he has donated greater than 2 tons of meals throughout his time as Santa.

The out of doors setup was further helpful this yr. Though infectious illness skilled Dr. Anthony Fauci stated in November that Santa was immune to COVID-19, Greulich needed to steadiness his duties as St. Nicholas with the hazard of exposing himself or his spouse, Cindy, to the virus.

On the occasions in his yard, he does not let the youngsters sit on his lap, as an alternative seating them in a small steel sleigh and chatting beside them. Greulich hasn’t worn a masks as Santa, however most of the kids and fogeys visiting him do.

“I’ve to even be sensible with my spouse, you already know… (For) 18 years, she’s had ALS,” he stated. “And if she have been to get it, I imply, that will not be an excellent scenario in any respect.”

Greulich is her main caretaker, although he stated they get help via Veterans Affairs. The Greulichs get 30 days of respite care – six hours a day of caretaking – which they often save up for the vacation season so he can work.

“I take care of him too, simply in several methods, you already know. Ensure he is all buckled up the best manner on the best way out,” Cindy Greulich stated, a crimson “ho-ho-ho” blanket draped over her lap. “We assist one another. We’re an excellent crew.”

Even outdoors of Santa’s workplace, the Greulich home is full of Christmas decorations. A row of stockings hangs above the mantel, together with one for Milo the cat. A tree laden with blue lights shines in the lounge as a masked nurse sits on the sofa, information in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine enjoying quietly on the TV.

Regardless of the chance of an infection, Cindy Greulich stated skipping this yr’s Santa visits was “by no means actually a query. He at all times needed to do it, even when it was like a special manner.

“He nonetheless needed to be there for the youngsters.”

Malls work to make Santa secure once more

The assorted malls across the Des Moines metro nonetheless have hosted Santa visits in 2020, however with a twist.

On the Valley West Mall, Santa Invoice Pattison sat behind a Plexiglas barrier in a set embellished to appear to be Santa’s workplace. It was his second yr working at Valley West and his 15th yr as Santa, however the setup was totally new: Masked children spoke right into a microphone to speak with him via the plastic glass, and he used a microphone to answer.

A lot of the children adjusted nicely to the brand new setup, Pattison stated, however some had a little bit of a studying curve.

“Though they’re little tykes, they know the custom of working up and leaping in Santa’s lap,” he stated. “They’ve ran into the Plexiglas.”

Pattison and his spouse, Jeanne, who performs Mrs. Claus on the weekends, miss a number of the private interactions that come from conventional Santa visits. Generally children would run up between shifts, asking for hugs whereas the Pattisons have been out of their enclosure.

“That is one thing that each side have misplaced as a result of that is one thing that Mrs. Claus and I take pleasure in additionally,” he stated. “There’s quite a lot of love exchanged there.”

Different children introduced a few of their worries to their red-suited oracle. Pattison stated a number of wished they may return to highschool. Others requested in regards to the well being of everybody on the North Pole: Had the elves or the reindeer gotten COVID-19? (The reply was no – the elves are too quick to catch COVID-19, he advised them, and the reindeer are simply advantageous.) 

However Pattison is used to coping with delicate conditions in the course of the holidays. He recalled that in 2008 in the course of the Nice Recession, he and different Santas have been conscious that some households won’t have items below the tree on Christmas morning. It is a steadiness he is serious about this yr, too.

“You continue to wish to be leaving with a constructive feeling and the concept that Christmas is not nearly presents,” he stated. “There’s way more to it.”

Rick Rosenthal, a longtime Santa and the dean of the Northern Lights Santa Academy in Georgia, suggested Santas to keep away from in-person occasions this yr. 

“Most Santas are in a minimal of two immune-compromised conditions,” he stated. “Most of them are over 65, and most of them are over 50 kilos obese.”

For those who did seem at malls or personal occasions, Rosenthal emphasised warning: ensuring the set allowed them to take care of secure social distance and was sanitized; sporting masks and following Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention pointers.

From his vantage level as a Santa skilled and advisor, Rosenthal watched because the unfolding pandemic threatened Santa traditions. In March, he stated, when COVID-19 shutdowns started within the U.S., many locations canceled their Santa plans. The telephones have been silent, and the Santa world was “in a tizzy,” he stated.

However because the summer season crept on, enthusiasm for the vacations grew.

“People want Christmas,” Rosenthal stated. “It’s the one time of the yr that everyone has hope.”

A go to with Santa goes digital

Because the world turned to Zoom for its gatherings in the course of the pandemic, so, too, did some Santas.

Along with its socially distanced setup, Jordan Creek City Middle in Des Moines, Iowa, partnered with web site JingleRing to supply video calls from Santa for $24.95. The service allowed households to customise their Santa expertise: Each white and Black Santas and Mrs. Clauses have been obtainable, as have been performers who spoke Spanish or knew signal language. 

Digital Santa visits have existed for six or seven years, Rosenthal stated, however the pandemic made them a “viable, primary cornerstone” of the business. Along with being safer for Santas and youngsters, the digital visits broaden the scope of Santa’s availability, permitting him to attend birthdays or soccer video games, or to go to children in a small city and not using a mall.

“You possibly can have Santa nearly any time, 24 hours a day, for any occasion,” he stated.

Dave Greulich additionally expanded into digital visits this yr. He provided custom-made movies via his web site, Your Household Christmas Story. Dad and mom crammed out a survey to create a script, permitting Greulich to “video name” as an omniscient St. Nick who knew precisely what everybody would discover on Christmas morning.

“The concept is to play it after everybody has opened up the items,” he defined. “All people’s form of calmed down just a little bit, they sit they usually get a cellphone name from Santa.” 

He offers an instance, his eyes shiny and his voice slipping simply right into a mushy, jovial tone:

“Properly, howdy, Hanson household!” he stated. “It is Santa, and I simply received again to the North Pole from my looooong journey around the globe.”

Observe Des Moines reporter Katie Akin on Twitter at @katie_akin.


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