For three decades, Stephen Johnson was Santa.

Stephen Johnson, aka Santa Claus, and his very real beard.
Stephen Johnson
Stephen Johnson portrayed Santa Claus for about three decades before retiring from dressing as the jolly old elf three years ago. The Jefferson City man, now sixty-eight, sat as Santa since the 1980s. To be closer to family, he moved to central Missouri eleven years ago after gigs in San Antonio, Texas, and an appearance at a New Orleans Saints vs. Detroit Lions NFL game at the Alamodome. To no surprise, the Santa impersonator is a fan of Christmas movies and has a lifetime of memories from the children who sat on his lap. Let’s start with the beard. Is it real? I haven’t shaved it since October 14, 1981. One kid said I wasn’t Santa Claus, then he saw that my beard is real—no strings going to the back of my head. Did any kids tug at your beard? Yeah, a lot of times. A lot of adults, too. How was the pay? In San Antonio it was a hundred dollars an hour. Missouri was down to twenty-five dollars an hour. In San Antonio, I worked with a talent agency that made my bookings. Tell us about an especially memorable child. There was a reservation in San Antonio that was set up for kids that were kicked out or ran away from home—a bad environment. This place gave them a place to stay for the night. This young man, about fourteen years old, had come, and I asked what he wanted for Christmas. The young man looked at me and said, “All I want is a friend.” And that’s all he had to say. It was a very sad situation. And then he left. That was maybe fifteen years ago. What does it take to be a good Santa? It just takes love for the kids … and patience. Do you miss it? Yeah, I do. It wasn’t tiring work. I never got tired of it. Is there training to become Santa? I just got the Santa suit and did it. My youngest brother made the suit. He was playing Santa Claus in San Antonio for two or three years. He passed the suit over to me. It’s the same one. I wore it all these years. I’ve got two others. One is a Father Christmas suit. It was patterned after The Santa Clause, you know, the movie with Tim Allen. Do you like cold weather? Yeah, I like it. But when it gets down to zero, it’s too cold. What is your day job? I make custom draperies. I just do it in my garage since 1975. How did you get into that line of work? My father. Most of my brothers and sisters work in it also. A brother in Salt Lake City, another brother in Virginia and sisters in San Antonio, they all do it. What was your experience as Santa with your own kids? I have five kids and twenty grandchildren. They’ve all known me as Santa, and this Christmas, they’ll get a glimpse of Santa. How do you manage to eat all those cookies on Christmas Eve? It’s magic.