It seems like a number of people have recently asked me, "How did you become Santa?" While I answer the question in my book "Santa's Journey," many of you might never have the opportunity to know if I don't share the beginning of my story here. Then, if this chapter intrigues you, you can go to my website, order the book, and hear "the rest of the story."
My dad loved Christmas! It was his favorite time of the year. He loved the music (especially the Christmas carols), the lights, the food and decorating our small house for the holidays. Every year Dad would have a family Christmas photo taken which he would then reproduce at his print shop for us to send to our friends and relatives. People would be so impressed to receive a custom Christmas card from us, as that was before personal photo cards. One particular card was a photo of my brother and me sitting in front of our fireplace with a plastic Santa Claus between us.
On Labor Day weekend of 1962, my dad and one of his brothers made a trip to Camp Lejeune Marine Base to pick up his brother’s two sons, who had just gotten out of the Marine Corps. I remember Dad talking to me that morning before he left about how he really didn’t want to be gone from us for the holiday weekend, but his brother wanted him to ride along. Dad couldn’t drive, he never had, but he felt he could at least keep his brother company. So with reluctance he bid us “goodbye.” That was the last time I would see him: on their return trip home, all four men in the car were killed in a head-on collision when a truck that had just passed another vehicle hit them.
I guess my childhood ended that Labor Day weekend as I realized I was “the man of the house” now, being the older brother. At 15 years old, I felt like I would have to take care of my mother and my little brother.
As Christmas came around that year, my Methodist Youth Fellowship group decided to provide a Christmas party for a mission church in our town, and they asked for a volunteer to be Santa Claus. People had always made fun of me for being overweight; so, almost as a joke, I was elected to be Santa. Deep down inside though, somehow, I felt like the fake beard and suit would cover up the hurting person I was inside; and if I could bring happiness to others, then maybe, doing so would fulfill the loneliness that had invaded my soul.
So, for Christmas of 1962, I put on a Santa Claus suit and made my “grand entrance” at the Beddington Street Mission in High Point, North Carolina carrying a hand-cut, cedar Christmas tree on my back, along with a big bag of toys. The rest of the youth group followed and helped the children make linked chains out of construction paper to decorate the tree. Later “Santa” passed out presents to the children while refreshments were being served. Little did I know that qualifying to be Santa because of my size, was the beginning of a lifelong ministry.
Forty-two years later, in 2004, I was interviewed by a newspaper reporter for a story in my hometown paper. During the interview, the reporter asked me if I thought my dad would be proud of me. Tears immediately welled up in my eyes because no one had ever asked me that question, and I had been afraid to ask it of myself. As I began to answer, I told the reporter the following story.
I had been invited to be Santa in Laurens, South Carolina by a dear friend who has painted several portraits of me in my Santa costumes. Not wanting to make the trip by myself, I invited my eight-year-old grandson, Robby, to go with me. With a father’s wisdom, my son, Rob, suggested he would like to go too; he knew Robby would be a “handful” if I was by myself. The weekend was a wonderful bonding experience for all three of us.
One night while we were enjoying a bucket of chicken after a long day, Robby said to his father, “Just think, Dad, we’ve got Robert Clifton Snider the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th all together in one place for a whole weekend!” To that revelation I responded, “You know Robby, I feel like Robert Clifton Snider, Sr. is here too!” With that story fresh in my mind, I told the reporter, “Yes, I know my Dad would be proud of me.”
Here is what the cover of the book looks like when you are searching for it.