In his famous response to Virginia O’Hanlon’s question about Santa Claus, Francis Pharcellus Church said, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give your life its highest beauty and joy.” We find that love and generosity in the lives of people all around us. Here are just a few Santa Clauses from Find a Grave that remind us about making life enjoyable and bringing joy to the world.
The tradition of Santa is based, at least in part, on a real man, St. Nicholas of Myra. Born in what is now Turkey to wealthy parents who died young, Nicolas gave his inheritance to the poor and needy. One of the best-known legends of Nicholas is that of a man who had three daughters and not enough money to provide dowries for them. It is said that Nicholas walked by the house and threw a bag of gold through the window (or alternatively, down the chimney) on three consecutive nights. Other similar stories exist, and Nicholas became symbolic of secret gift giving.
For 68 of his 90 years Jim Yellig donned the red suit and transformed into Jolly old Saint Nick. It all started when he was in the Navy in 1914. His ship was docked in Brooklyn and his shipmates had an idea to throw a party for underprivileged children in the area. They knew he was from the area of Santa Claus, Indiana, and thus nominated him to play Santa Claus. He loved playing the part, especially seeing how happy it made children.
After WWI, Yellig left the service and got married. A few years later he returned to his hometown of Mariah Hill. A friend of his, James F. Martin, was the postmaster in Santa Claus. He had been answering children’s letters for years and he needed help! In 1935, Yellig organized a group called the Santa Claus American Legion Post to help answer letters. He also dressed the part and quickly became a fixture in the town of Santa Claus. In 1946, the Santa Claus theme park opened and Yellig was the star of the show. He wrote a booklet titled, “It’s Fun to be a Real Santa Claus,” which tells the history of Santa Claus as well as providing training and tips to becoming Santa. The years went on and thousands of children knew him as their Santa. He often surprised children as he spoke five languages. Jim was Santa for so long, generations of families enjoyed the tradition of sitting on his lap and telling him what they wished for. At age 90 he said, “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this now [but] I feel like I’ve got a little soul here who will grow up someday and possibly remember a few things.”
Mr. Santa Clause spent many a December answering thousands of letters that he received. His father, who had a good sense of humor, gave him the name, Santa Clause. He was a plumber and pastor and had seven children of his own. But, during the Christmas season, there were times when he cut short time with his own family to attend to all the mail that he received. He felt it was important to write the children back, but didn’t have the funds for all the stamps he needed to reply to 6,000 letters per year. Generous friends donated to the stamp fund, and he was able to answer those letters for many years. He spent much of his life clean shaven, but this article refers to growing out his beard and then “whitening his whiskers” to be the real town Santa from Marshall, Missouri.
We’re left to wonder about the life of Jimmy Lee Pace. His funeral notice only gives us the clue that he used the name “Santa Claus.” He must have been a person who played the part as we’re left with a second clue, the Santa boot on his headstone.
We wish you and yours a happy holiday season and hope that “love and generosity and devotion … abound and give your life its highest beauty and joy.”