I can almost guarantee it. If you cross paths with Lou and Teresa MacDonald here in Live Oak---and most likely you will as the Madison couple frequently visits Suwannee County---you will remember the occasion. After all, it’s not every day that you meet a couple that lives and breathes Christmas 365-days a year. But then, would you expect anything less from Santa Claus and his wife? You see, Lou is a professional Saint Nick.
Now let’s get this straight. When I say he is a professional,” I’m not talking about some guy who once a year dons a fake beard---OK, they call them “designer beards in the trade----rents a red suit and goes “Ho, Ho, Ho” in some store to shill toy sales. I’m speaking about a guy--- who no matter what his apparel nor where he is---looks like the jolly old elf…complete with an eight-inch long, snow-white beard and the appropriate girth. Be he in Bermuda shorts or blue jeans…in Atlanta or Zanesville, you still will know that he is “the man.”
The MacDonald’s weren’t always as they are today, however. Their Santa journey began in the North Georgia city of Buford more than a decade ago. Lou had been a professional grounds keeper for a college, but a 30-foot fall and a resulting spinal injury eventually ended that career. He would later go to work at his local Walmart, where on Halloween in 1997---and decked out for the occasion---he was assigned the task of giving candy to trick-or-treaters. Lou loved it, and clearly the kids loved him back! So much so, that his store manager asked Lou---then clean shaven---to be the store’s seasonal Santa. Although Lou says he was a little hesitant about taking on the role at first, he finally agreed and even purchased the required Ho-Ho suit.
It is here that the MacDonald’s Santa odyssey takes a tragic, but important, detour. The couple was to travel to Jacksonville that November to spend Thanksgiving with their only grandson; five-month-old Kieran. Lou even planned to take his new Santa suit for family photos. The trip took place, but not as initially planned. Five days before the holiday, Kieran died of a brain aneurysm. The MacDonald’s were of course crushed…and yet Lou was expected to return to work shortly after the child’s funeral and become the jolliest of all human beings. He is honest about those dark days. If the store hadn’t already advertised Santa’s presence, he wouldn’t have returned to work so soon. But, as Teresa reminded him, he simply couldn’t disappoint all those kids.
The first child to crawl up in his lap would be, of course, the most memorable, but not for the reasons you might think. You see, the little girl’s family had suffered a recent loss of their own; a still-born little boy. To Lou’s amazement, before asking “Santa” for anything, she wanted to thank him. After all, as he had approached, Santa had vigorously rung the sleigh bells he carried …and she “knew” he had done that just to insure that her little brother was given his angel wings! The story---and its’ relevance to his own loss---moved him.
Lou will tell you that in the coming days, he discovered those children who visited with him were like medicine for his soul. Their awe and joy at visiting with Santa might not have eliminated his personal sorrow, but made it at least more bearable. So what started out as a one-time, seasonable job, evolved into something far more important in the lives of the MacDonald’s. And as a result, the “designer beard” would give way to the real McCoy…that first Santa suit would be replaced by more realistic ones…and Teresa, decked out in a beautiful, flowing red gown, would become the consummate “Mrs. Claus.”
In the coming years, Lou became the “go to guy” in North Georgia when a Santa was needed. He says he would start having corporate bookings as early as October. Then there were also the numerous TV appearances.
With his move to North Florida three-years ago, the number of corporate jobs became fewer, but that doesn’t mean Santa is idle. Lou explains that since relocating---he calls Madison “the Narth Pole”---church visits, for which he doesn’t normally charge, have become an important part of his life…one for which he has even developed a special program. “I explain to the kids that first and foremost, Santa—like all Christians---is nothing more than a servant of Jesus, whose birthday we are celebrating.” And as Christ’s servant, he explains, Santa is charged with doing good works…in his case, bringing gifts to the deserving. But he also tells the little ones, they too have an obligation to do good things in Christ’s name.
Does it seem somehow ironic that the figure that has become the epitome of Christmas commercialism should be delivering such a message? Not at all. In fact, if the 4th Century bishop we know as Saint Nicholas were still alive today, I suspect he’d be saying exactly the same.
If you or your group would like to learn more about arranging a visit from Santa and Mrs. Clause, you can reach them by sending an email to SantaNiclaus@aol.com. Or you can visit Santa’s webpage at www.SantaNiclaus.com.