“At least two of the kids that sat on my knee then, I have their grandkids doing it now,” said Rick Anderson, dressing as “Santa’s helper” for nearly five decades. “I was 16 walking in the store looking for Christmas presents when I saw a one-size-fits-all Santa outfit, and it all started from there.”
Taking only one year off from dressing as Kris Kringle, Anderson has nearly reached 50 years of pictures, handing out candy canes, and hearing Christmas wishes from boys and girls. He’s attended countless area events, frequently seen at the Holiday Stroll in Amery or reading Christmas stories to kids at the Deer Park Library. He’s also attended The Art Barn and school Christmas programs in Osceola as well as many charities, nursing homes, and other venues.
After all that time and so many events, one might think that he would tire out, but 49 Christmases have yet to slow down his enthusiasm for the role.
“Wherever I could, I liked to do a lot of it,” Anderson says. “It definitely wears you out a little bit, but there’s no definite timeline when I’ll stop. It’s the little things. I like talking with the kids, and the parents. Some of the other Santas just wave, and say ‘Merry Christmas,’ but I like to really talk to them. Little things like that make their day.”
It would be easy enough to sit and listen to Christmas wishes and send the kids on their way, but Anderson makes it a point to keep those kids off the “naughty list.”
“One of the first things I say - and this always makes their eyes go wide – I say, ‘how come you didn’t clean your room this morning?’” Anderson says. “You know I get all of them with that! Or I’ll say, ‘you know, Santa doesn’t like it when you argue with Mom and Dad when it’s bedtime. You have to listen to your parents so I can keep you on the nice list!’ I have a lot of parents thank me because I actually sit and talk with the kids.”
Though the role of Old Saint Nick hasn’t worn Anderson out, his outfits certainly have. Starting from his very first outfit at 16 years old, five outfits, and four beards have been replaced after decades including a bag made by his wife, Judy, that he still carries to this day. In fact, the first time Rick and Judy met, he was in outfit.
“Just a couple of years ago, we were talking to somebody about how I got started doing this and Judy said to me, ‘Wait a minute, you were in Swenson’s?’ and I said, ‘yeah?’ Well, It turns out she saw me there with her mom and dad in 1969, but she was too embarrassed to say hi. It took till 1975 before we got together. She didn’t know who I was then, and I didn’t know her either.”
From meeting his wife dressed as “Santa’s helper,” to helping countless parents keep their kids off the naughty list, Anderson certainly has a passion for the Christmas season. With his 50th year on the horizon, and a reluctance to pack the suit away, it’s safe to assume that he will reach his “golden anniversary” next year.
“It’s been a wonderful time doing it, and I just enjoy doing it,” Anderson says. “Christmas is just my time of year.”