Ed Butchart has portrayed Santa Claus professionally for nearly two decades.
Lessons from a Real-Life Santa
By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com He may not live at the North Pole, but to any kid who has seen him, Ed Butchart is Santa Claus. And he takes his role quite seriously.
Butchart has donned the red suit for almost 20 years at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia. But even when he is not in full Santa regalia, he says, people often associate him with jolly old St. Nick because of his distinctive full white beard.
His journey into life as a professional Santa Claus came about unexpectedly. After completing 20 years with the Marine Corps, he let his beard grow out. Soon people began to comment that he looked like Santa, and he received offers to play the role at various places. While he was in character at a mall, representatives from Atlanta’s Stone Mountain Park took notice of him. They soon offered him the job as their official Santa.
It’s a perfect platform for sharing his Christian faith, Butchart says. In his latest book, More Pages from the Red Suit Diaries, the author writes that few people understand how the legend of Santa Claus began.
“They have the mistaken opinion that Santa is a pagan figure with no relationship to the birth of Jesus Christ,” Butchart writes. “Many of them have strong feelings against having Santa included in church celebrations. Unfortunately, some Santas don’t know the history either and do a poor job of explaining the connection.”
Butchart, on the other hand, is always ready to explain Santa’s role in the Christmas celebration. “Santa Claus is truly a religious figure,” he says. “The original Santa Claus of course was a bishop in a little town in what’s now Turkey. His name was Nicholas, and he became famous because of his acts of generosity.”
“What I try to do, and what I encourage other Santas to do,” he says, “is to emulate that love and that generosity and to do what Jesus told us to do. Reach out and help your neighbors and be kind and loving to everybody.”
In his books, he writes about many of the unforgettable children that he has met as Santa. While most kids ask for Barbie dolls or video games, he has also had children ask him to bring a parent home from Iraq or home from jail. He has also met and prayed with children suffering from life-threatening diseases and tracked their progress through the years.
Each year brings touching and memorable moments with hundreds of children, he says. In each encounter he tries to bring a smile to their faces. “It’s just an awesome thing to be able to bring that kind of joy and pleasure into somebody’s life,” he says.
But it hasn’t always been easy. For years, his wife Annie faithfully served by his side as Mrs. Claus. But in the winter of 2004, Annie succumbed to a long illness. She died on Christmas day. Butchart says he didn’t think he could go on in the role of Santa without her.
“It has been a real struggle for me” he says. “Annie had been sick for a long time, and I thought I was prepared for the day that she would pass away. When it happened, I was not ready. I was not prepared at all. I kept saying ‘Lord, get me through this.’ And ultimately He did.”
Still the prospect of continuing his role of Santa without his wife was daunting. But it was something he knew Annie wanted him to do. The couple had discussed it before she died.
“She told me that I had to keep going,” Butchart writes in his book. “There were too many kids who believed in me, she said, and our love for Jesus demanded that I keep sharing that love with kids and adults.”
That is what he has continued to do. And his generous spirit doesn’t end when his red suit is packed away each year. When he is not greeting children as Santa Claus, Butchart serves as president of Friends of Disabled Adults and Children, a ministry that distributes wheel chairs and other medical equipment to people around the world.
Like his role as Santa, the ministry is something that Butchart stumbled into unexpectedly. It began when a friend who had cerebral palsy asked him to change a light bulb for him at his apartment. His friend was very appreciative, and Butchart realized how nice it felt to help someone.
“It was an amazing feeling that swept over me,” Butchart says. “I began to look for other ways to recapture that feeling, and it became almost an obsession. I wanted to help folks.”
The idea for Friends of Disabled Adults and Children was born and he has watched the ministry grow through the years.
“The Lord has blessed this place so incredibly you wouldn’t believe it,” Butchart says. “I started out in the garage of my house, and now I’m sitting here in a building that is 64,800 square feet. And it’s packed with donated medical equipment that we fix up and give away. I walk through here every day and I’m just astounded. I just can’t believe what I’m seeing.”
“We’ve given away 20,000 wheelchairs,” Butchart says. “We’ve got wheelchairs in 65 countries and 42 states. It’s really been amazing.”
It’s a feeling that everyone can experience, he says, if they are willing to give of themselves. And people don't have to dress up as Santa to spread God's love. There are many ways they can reach out to others.
“I want to encourage people to give themselves away,” Butchart says. “Donate money. Take food to a family, or donate food to an agency that does do that. Do anything that you can do where you are giving of yourself but you are not getting any credit for it.”
Just as Scripture promises, he says, it really is more enjoyable to give than to receive.
“I guarantee your chest will fill up with joy as you do that,” Butchart says. “There’s just nothing in the world like it. I wish I could bottle that feeling and let everybody have a taste of it because the whole world would change.”
Purchase your copy of More Pages from the Red Suit Diaries.
Purchase Butchart's previous book (the audio version), The Red Suit Diaries.
Learn more about Butchart’s ministry, Friends of Disabled Adults and Children.
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