Even young children understand that sometimes during this particularly busy time of year – the holidays – that even Santa needs a helping hand at times.
In the week’s leading up to Santa’s Christmas Eve jaunt around the world, when the crunch to get the toys made becomes maddening, Santa can’t be everywhere hearing the final wishes of good boys and girls. That’s when he recruits the help of those gentle bearded souls around the world to go out and hear those wishes.
Enter Terry Burke, a hand-picked Santa helper in the Pine Belt.
Burke has visited with good girls and boys at The Lucky Rabbit, Gattitown, Christmas Expo and Pine Belt venues.
Burke and wife, Roberta, were shopping at an after-Christmas sale at Hobby Lobby. He had gone his way and she had gone hers. He came back with a marked down Santa suit expressing a desire to be Santa. “I had no idea what I was going to do with this suit,” he said. “I just wanted one.”
And his part-time holiday job began.
In his fourth year as a jolly ole elf, Burke delights in seeing the smiles on the faces of young boys and girls, and even the grown-ups.
“I would have never known Santa would be so popular,” said Burke.
This year’s calendar already has 19 dates booked, three on one Saturday. “Saturdays get very busy,” said Roberta. “Everybody wants the weekends.”
His first event this season was The Avenues Halloween Parade. His gigs usually start in November and the couple uses a Facebook page to promote his services. While milling around waiting for the Halloween parade to start, he said he had a lot of people tell him, “Go home, it’s not time for you.”
“And he even got booed,” Roberta said. “Some people were great; others not so much.”
In addition to public events, he also visits a lot of private parties. And he’s also available during the week. He’s even helped with a proposal in a private home, presenting the “groom-to-be” with the ring as he approached his future bride.
“Everybody knew what was happening except the girl,” Roberta said.
Burke said he’s visited by two kinds of children – the good kids and then the six to eight-foot kids. That means they like him as long as they are six-to-eight feet away from him.
For those insistent mothers who are dead set on having their child’s picture made with Santa, no matter how tearful they get, Burke says he tries to talk to them and soothe them the best he can. “I try and get them comfortable with me,” he said. “And we’ve been lucky to have photos snapped before they looked at me and started crying.”
But visits to Santa can also be on the sad side because of what children sometimes ask for. Burke has heard, “Please try and stop mom and dad from fighting,” “I don’t want dad to hit mom,” “Grandma’s sick, please get her out of the hospital.”
“I hear some sad stories,” Santa said, “but I also hear some funny ones.”
Burke, as Santa, never pro-mises children anything. He tells them he’ll get his elves on it or see what he can do.
He’s even had bewildered parents come up and ask him what the child asked for.
It’s the little ones that are Burke’s favorite age group. He considers that the best part of his job. “I’ve held them from one day old,” he said. “They just got out of the hospital and I was home waiting for them.”
While Santa is a milk and cookies kind of guy, he’d rather children leave something like a turkey leg. But if cookies are his only option, then his request would be peanut butter cookies, especially Girl Scout peanut butter cookies.
As a child growing up, Burke remembers his favorite gift from Santa.
“I still remember going to the old Cloverleaf Mall and seeing Santa,” he said. “I wont’ forget it. I told my dad, ‘I’d love to have me one of those BMX bikes, and that Christmas I woke up and there was that bicycle.
“I’m blessed that I have been able to be Santa for four years and people want me back.”