He’s making a list: A Q&A with ‘Santa Claus’


Santa is busy this time of year. Current in Westfield caught up with him at the Barker Cabin to learn more about what it means to wear that famous red suit. It must also be noted that to maintain anonymity, Santa Claus goes by the name Terry Carrithers.

What was your favorite Christmas gift when you were a child?

“I grew up in Los Angeles. My dad worked for North American Rockwell building engines for the Saturn V rockets. One year, my family wasn’t doing particularly well. My dad bought some used bikes, and he completely redid them and repainted them. And the bicycle he gave me that year was the best gift I ever got.”

What experience do you need to be Santa Clause?

“I served in the Air Force for 20 years. I wasn’t a pilot. I worked in communications and security. I worked on a mobile radar site in Germany from 1976 to 1978. Then I worked at the Autodin Switching Center in England where we controlled one-third of the U.S. military and NATO communications in Europe from 1982 to 1985. I also installed the first computer system inside Cheyenne Mountain* in Colorado in 1989. But more than all of that, to be Santa you have to have a love of kids and families.”

Do you remember the first time you saw a child’s eyes light up when seeing you in your red suit?

“Nearly 25 years ago, I traveled hours away to visit my best friend’s 6-year-old daughter. It took her another six years to figure out who I was. That little girl is now 32 and is about to enter the Air Force Officer’s Training School.”

Where did you meet Mrs. Claus?

“After retiring from the Air Force, I worked in IT for the Indianapolis schools. There, I met Becky Allen at Francis W. Parker School 56. She was a school library assistant. She’s from Westfield, graduated from Westfield High School in 1969. After a year, I proposed to her in the principal’s office. We have lived in Westfield for nearly 20 years. Between us, we have a son and two daughters — and (my wife’s graduating class from WHS) has adopted me as one of their own.”

What are your personal Christmas traditions?

“We go to our daughter’s house on Christmas Eve. All the grandkids and great grandkids will be there this year. My wife loves to create massive stockings. They’re so big they’re in bags, but she calls them stockings. And a lot of it is stuff the kids can use throughout the year. Watching them open those stockings is my favorite part of Christmas.”

What do you like best about being Santa?

“The kids. It’s no question. The look on their faces. The questions they ask. I love it when people bring their babies. I love holding the babies.”

What do you do when you aren’t doing the job of Santa?

“As far as hobbies go, I like to tinker with my 3D printer and CNC machine. I’m working on a sign right now that’s kind of a surprise. I guess you could say I have an in-home workshop.”

What do you do when a child cries or seems scared of you?

“I try to calm them down. If the mom insists, I will hold a screaming child, but I dislike stressing them out. I try to think of the child more than the parent. A lot of times I’ll invite one of the parents to come sit on a bench next to me and hold the child.”

What do you say when a child asks you if you are real?

“I usually ask a question in return: ‘Do you think I’m real?’ Once, I had a boy ask me why my beard was so short? I told him, ‘The closer it gets to Christmas, the longer it gets.’”

Speaking of beards, how do you care for yours?

“I wash it. I use a special beard shampoo that makes it nice and soft and fluffy, and I comb it out every day, and that’s about it.”

Have you ever actually given someone coal in their stocking?

“I’d rather not disclose that. Hopefully, if they ever got coal, they became a nice person.”

What else would you like for people to know about you?

“I like helping people — I really do.”

*Cheyenne Mountain is home to North American Aerospace Defence Command, which began tracking Santa’s flight in 1955. NORAD still tracks Santa’s Christmas Eve journey, and kids and their parents can follow along at NoradSanta.org.

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Santa talks with Melanie Williams of Westfield about what’s on her Christmas wish list. (Photos by Amy Adams)

Santa Through the Years

  • 1823 — “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” known today as “The Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Clarke Moore, was published in the “Sentinel” in Troy, New York.
  • 1863 — American cartoonist and caricaturist Thomas Nast immortalized a modern Santa Claus in “Harper’s Weekly.”
  • 1902 — Beloved author of “The Wizard of Oz,” Frank L. Baum published “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.”
  • 1924 — Although his appearances in department stores go back even earlier, Santa Claus brought a grand finale to the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
  • 1931 — While other advertisements date back to 1915, the first and perhaps most well-known ad campaign featuring Santa was drawn by artist Haddon Sundbloom for Coca-Cola beginning.
  • 1932 — A “Silly Symphonies” short brought the debut of Santa as an animated character in “Santa’s Workshop” produced by none other than Walt Disney.
  • 1934 — Ferdinand Munier holds the place as the first actor to appear as Santa Claus in a full-length feature film, the Laurel and Hardy classic “Babes in Toyland.”
  • 1964 — “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” created by Rankin/Bass, was the first of what would become annual Christmas specials in which Santa shows up, voiced by Stan Francis in 1964.