At parties many times, when the man in the red suit sits down to talk to the children and bring good cheer from the North Pole, there are often a few spoilers who want all and sundry to know he’s not the real deal.
Cries of “You are a fake,” are common, but one Santa has devised a way to bring the mystery back. This particular Santa gives the doubters a chance to tug on his legendary white beard. A look of amazement then comes into their eyes, and that’s worth every moment that Bill Pilgrim has to lug the giant sack in which he keeps all the children’s toys.
Pilgrim has been playing Santa Claus for 25 years. It started out as a hobby he thought nothing about, except to get a few extra dollars. But being Santa has come to mean much more to him than he could have ever imagined in the beginning.
“Years ago, my sister wanted someone to play Santa for her kids so I volunteered. People started saying, ‘I heard you got somebody to play Santa Claus; how much does he charge?’” he said, adding that back then, he wasn’t charging any money for his act but this got him thinking about the possibility of doing it commercially.
Though he’s getting on in years and having to deal with different challenges; like having to make do without his elves (Santa’s helpers this year are noticeably absent as some have moved on to demanding jobs, gotten married or just lost interest), he is still going strong.
He made a pact with himself three years ago when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer that he would be Santa for as long as he could do it and raise funds for the unfortunate in society.
“I dedicated my whole Santa Claus routine for cancer research,” he said. “Everything I make goes, and I don’t keep anything.”
Pilgrim raises money for Relay for Life cancer research, he said, and the Christmas season is when he goes to work.
Every year, his goal is to get $1,000 or more, and he said he has been hitting his goal for the last three years. “I am well on my way there for this year,” he said.
The routine is basic; if you want to get your picture taken with Santa, for $5 you can use your camera or Santa’s wife can take it for you.
“It is cool, because the kids look up at me quizzically, and they really want to reach up and grab onto my beard because they think its fake,” he said, “I reach up and tell them to go ahead and pull it. I had this kid of 8 who said, ‘I know its fake and if I pull your hat off, it’ll all fall off.” That boy was delighted to find that Santa was real after all.
From Nov. 18 up to Christmas Eve, Pilgrim said he is booked for performances at different places around the County. “This week alone, I will be at the Senior Center, at Samy’s, VFW and at Crazy House,” he said. He also delivers presents to homes, especially for children or even adults who cannot get out of their houses due to illness.
What does he tell the kids? He tells them Santa is about good. They need to be obedient to their parents if they are to be counted as good.
He tries to make children feel the joy of Christmas any way he can, and if this will come about through him wearing a funny red suit, he will do it gladly.