By: Michael G. Lander
|Santa Steve (Stephen Dodd)|
Dodd, who goes by the name of Santa Steve, is a 27-year Federal Express employee who works as a Project/Process Analyst . He is also in his 17th year on the Desoto County School Board and is in his third year on the Mississippi School Board Association serving as one of their directors.
Santa Steve became interested in being Santa after dressing up for his granddaughter at Christmas. "After she looked up and her mouth and eyes opened wide," he said, "the magic of Santa had arrived and from that moment on I was hooked."
To prepare himself for the role of Santa, Santa Steve attended the International University of Santa (IUSC) last year in Branson, Mo, where he earned a Bachelor of Santaclausology. In August of this year, he received his Masters degree from there. The other training that he has received has come from forums and chats using Clausnet, which he said provides "a world of knowledge shared by Santas who want to help their fellow Santas."
Beginning this year, Santa Steve officially established his business and set up a website, http://santasteve.me/, and a facebook account, https://www.facebook.com/santasteve.claus.
One of the things that Santa Steve believes sets him apart from many others is that he has a real beard. He also thinks that he has a personality and charm that draws children to him.
"I am a big kid at heart myself," he said, and "I am an extremely good listener and I show that I honestly care about a person whether they are three or 90-years-old."
In order to be a good Santa, Santa Steve said that he feels it is important to "have a natural smile and demeanor that exudes love and caring." He believes that it is the magical feeling that Santa gives that mesmerizes the children. To really be Santa, he said, it takes "a big heart, a big smile, being a good story teller, and being willing to listen to whatever the child tells you, without passing judgment." It also helps, he said, to be able to have a great rapport with adults, too.
For Santa Steve, the biggest reward for him in being Santa is the surprised look on children's faces with their eyes wide open whenever he enters the room. Hearing their dreams, wishes, and just speaking to them brings a lot of joy, not only for them, but to him as well, he said.
Santa Steve said that he has plenty of stories to tell, but one of his more amusing ones occurred when he was portraying Santa at one of the Starry Night events at Shelby Farms. One of the Vice Presidents at Federal Express walked by him and, as he passed by Santa Steve, he called him by his first name and asked him if he had been a good boy. Santa Steve said that, "he stopped, his mouth fell open, and he walked backward in amazement. He looked at me as if he was wondering if I were indeed Santa."
While there are plenty of positive aspects of being Santa, Santa Steve said that one of the biggest challenges is being able to decipher what some of the small children are sometimes whispering in his ear.
Another big challenge, he said, is responding to requests that he could never help them with. These requests can sometimes include such things, he said, as "bringing back a dead parent, getting mommy and daddy back together, and making a sibling well, and so on." Even though he lets them know that he may not be able to help them with these types of requests, he tries to assure them that what they are asking for is very important and he tries to be supportive and to let them know that he cares. One other challenge for Santa Steve is the suit itself, which he said can get very hot for him especially since he is hot-natured.
While Santa Steve is receptive to attending all kinds of events or parties, even for adults, he is not willing to ever portray a "bad" Santa character. "My actions, demeanor, and overall presentation should be the same whether it is a party for children, adults, or a mixture of both," he said.
For Santa Steve, Santa represents a person who spreads joy and excitement all around the world. Santa's roots trace back to the third century to a man by the name of Nicholas. Legend has it that Nicholas was born to a wealthy family and, when he inherited his family's fortune, he chose to give much of it away anonymously. These acts of kindness, love, and generosity gained the attention of many who soon began to imitate what Nicholas had started centuries before.
Santa Steve believes that "Santa is a manifestation of the goodness that resides in all of us. Like the original Nicholas, the bounties that God has provided are gladly shared with the needy."
Santa Steve also appreciates how Santa has the unique ability to make people smile and bring happiness, which are two things, he feels, that are very much needed these days.
Santa Steve thinks that the way Santa is viewed has changed over the years and agrees with those who feel that the character has become much more commercialized and has lost some of the gentler aspects. For Santa Steve, Santa is, and will always be, much more than someone who is selling toys or is just another reason for someone to go to a store. Santa Steve believes that Santa is the personification of what is the best in all of us and what makes the world a much better place for all of us to live in.
For those who don't believe in Santa, Santa Steve would be the first to remind you of the beautifully crafted editorial from Francis Pharcellus Church on September 21, 1897. The editorial was in response to a letter from an 8-year-old girl, Virginia O'Hanlon, who wrote the New York Sun about her friends saying that there was no Santa Claus and asking to please tell her if he really existed.
In response, Church eloquently told Virginia that her little friends were wrong and that they were affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. He went on to say that Santa existed as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist. How dreary, he said, would the world be if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.
Nobody, he wrote, sees Santa Claus, but that is not a sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world, he said, are those things that neither children nor men can see. He concluded by saying that "No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever..... he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."
For the rest of us, Santa Steve is one of many who strive to keep the hopes and dreams of Santa alive as well as the message of kindness, love, and giving.