Kris Kringle. Jolly Old Saint Nick. Father Christmas.
Santa Claus goes by many names, but the one thing that stays the same is the joy the Christmas persona brings to children around the world.
Santa will make some special visits to Elkhart County, including an extended stay at Concord Mall from now through Christmas Eve. Judy Roberts, a local photographer with Artistic Portraits by Judy, takes photographs while local children meet Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas.
“It’s interesting because you never know what their reaction will be,” Roberts said. “Their age really isn’t relevant most of the time. It’s more about how attached they are to their parents.”
Eyes light up
Butch Plikerd, who introduced himself as “Kris Kringle,” called himself a “Santa Claus Helper.” He said he dons the red suit and greets children and their families as Santa at private parties, Syracuse’s Santa Comes to Town and at Concord Mall this year.
“I really like watching their eyes light up, and when they tell me what they really want for Christmas,” he said. “I also like hearing from the ones who don’t have much, but don’t want anything but to come see Santa. I feel bad for them (Judy Roberts and her husband, Bruce) when children come by and the parents don’t buy photos, but Santa Claus isn’t just for the rich.”
Plikerd is what’s known as a “real-beard Santa,” meaning that snowy white beard on his chin is 100 percent real. He said he has gone through his share of experiences, from bodily fluids to beard-pulling, but he loves portraying Santa Claus.
“One of the most sentimental things I remember was when a little girl got on my lap and asked for her brother to get better,” Plikerd said.
The first visit
Plikerd was visited by several children Friday afternoon at Concord Mall. Parents Amanda and Kevin O’Dell, Goshen, brought their daughter Kelsey, 19 months, to see Santa Claus for the first time.
Kelsey didn’t have the easiest time with Santa, with tears arriving as soon as she was placed on Santa’s lap.
Amanda O’Dell was all smiles, however, talking about the tradition of Santa Claus and seeing her older children on his lap.
“It’s an innocence,” she said of the childhood beliefs. “It’s imagination and the spirit of Christmas.”
Paige Ott, 5, Bristol, also stopped by. Having already seen Santa once at University Park Mall, she said she needed to see him a second time to ask how Mrs. Claus was at the North Pole.
“I also asked him for an American Girl doll, and all the stuff for it,” she said.
Plikerd smiled wide as the children left, waving and chuckling the iconic “Ho! Ho! Ho!” laugh.
“You’ve got to love it,” Plikerd said after Kelsey left. “If you’re doing it only for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.”
Plikerd said sometimes children bring him letters, and they ask him what kind of cookies he likes.
“I have more fun than the kids,” he said with a grin. “It’s not right that I get paid to have this much fun. I have a bunch of their letters up — some of them just drew pictures of what they want, because they couldn’t spell it.”
Speaking of wish lists, Plikerd said he’s heard more requests for Legos than anything else.
“They’ve been high on a lot of lists,” he said. “It’s good — I think they’re more financially feasible for most families.”
Breakfast With Santa
Santa will also stop by Breakfast With Santa on Dec. 1. Children are invited to come for breakfast, visit with Santa and get a small gift at the Central Fire Station, 500 East St., Elkhart. Admission for children under 12 is a donation of a non-perishable food item for local food pantries, and all others are asked to donate $2.
Captain Paul Womack with the Elkhart Fire Department said the event, now in its 21st year, is important to the community.
“Especially nowadays with the economy how it is, this is the only Christmas some of these kids are going to have,” Womack said.
Womack said it’s touching to see the children spend time with Santa, and it’s just as important to the man portraying Santa.
“We’ve had a few different guys play Santa over the years,” Womack said. “They’re all retired firefighters, and they love it.”
Santa will be played by Ray Collins, a retired firefighter.
Womack said he and the department expect a big crowd, especially after more than 1,500 showed up to the event last year.
“We ran out of food three times last year,” Womack said. “We had to run to Gordon’s for more pancake batter, syrup and sausage. We’re expecting a big turnout this year, so we put a little more toward food this year.”
Though the event is held in Elkhart, all children, regardless of community, are invited.
“It’s not just for Elkhart kids,” he said. “It’s for everyone.”
The breakfast also serves as a fundraiser for Child and Parent Services and Children’s Hospital/Oncology. Food pantry beneficiaries include Faith Mission, Salvation Army and Church Community Services.