by Matt Bartmann
“Never be Santa Claus in your own hometown.”
Sage advice given to Santa many years ago.
That’s why Santa comes down from his home at the North Pole to Old Town Fort Collins every year before Christmas.
Oh, Santa had tried being himself in other towns before settling in Fort Collins. He played himself in Long Island, New York, for a year in 2000…at Walt Whitman Mall. He laughs about that.
He was also himself in Atlanta for a year in 2001, where he was not allowed to walk to work. “It was written into the contract. They were afraid I might get hurt or have a heart attack,” Santa explained. So he rode his bicycle. “The day of ‘Breakfast with Santa,’ I put on my outfit, jumped on my bike, rode it over to the back door of the mall and did a nice little bunny hop over the curb. The mall manager was pacing about by the entrance looking for me and had a fit. ‘I didn’t walk,’ I told her. I obey the rules.”
After Atlanta, Santa found himself in Fort Collins, and he saw a need. A need that he knew he could fulfill. “There was a trailer. Candy-cane-striped cardboard tubes on each corner, green shutters with Christmas tree cutouts.” It required a makeover, and Santa knew just what to do.
“I got on my computer and wrote up a proposal for the Downtown Fort Collins Business Association: ‘We’ll turn this into a Colorado log cabin, lodgepole pine fence around it. With trees. And lights.’ ”
His proposal was accepted, and since 2002, Santa has been himself in Old Town Square. He and his elves fixed up that trailer, and that was Santa’s workshop for more than 10 years.
Three years ago, a new Christmas cottage was delivered, now neatly tucked into the middle of Old Town Square next to the ice rink. And by new, we mean new.
“It even has a heater!” Santa says with excitement. “And an insulated floor!”
“No more cold elf feet!” says longtime elf Jesse.
And it still gets decorated with fresh trees. Every year, Santa and his elves get in Santa’s “industrial sleigh” and head for the hills to get holiday greenery from a local property owner who has an abundance of “dog hair timber”—small, close-spaced lodgepole pines. Perfect!
Of course, prior to setting out to work on trees, the elves must don their outfits. That’s right. “Outfits. Not costumes.”
The elves, one of whom is new this year, gladly help each other with their outfits.
The new elf, Elf Kimeon, upon seeing the outfits, comments: “Some gnarly stuff! Where’d you get these?” Experienced elves Jesse and Connor, very indignantly and simultaneously: “This is NORTH POLE stuff!”
Conversation from the dressing room ensues.
“You get the velvet top, right?”
“You have to safety-pin it….”
“You put your buttons on backwards! Haven’t you done this a million times?!”
Santa: “You gotta help me with my belt.” Jingling bells sound, as he presumably holds it up. “Gotta go through the loops! Just like you put your belt on!”
“See this buckle? I made it.” Complimentary oohs and ahhs are heard from the elves.
Santa Claus, who is a real stickler, comments: “Remember, you Velcro right around the bottom of the knee. We want to see your striped socks!”
Eventually, all of the elves emerge in their outfits, with only a couple of loose ends. “You gotta button your shirt! Button it!” Santa scolds Elf Jesse, who seems confused because his elf shirt is buttoned. Santa and Elf Connor, simultaneously, and pointing: “The sleeve!” Elf Jesse quickly buttons the one open cuff.
When everybody is in their holiday best, a baggie appears out of Santa’s pocket. “Elf gloves.” The finishing touch. Santa hands out a pair of the white gloves to each elf, a pair for himself.
Now fully outfitted, it’s off to work. Santa and his elves set out into the woods with handsaws and axes. Using only these hand tools, the crew finishes chopping and loading about 22 trees and some boughs in about an hour.
Once, several years earlier, Santa was offered a chainsaw. He shut that down fast. “Nope. Too much noise and too smelly. Besides, I just sharpened the axes.” End of conversation.
It’s a win-win day for everybody. Santa gets the decor he needs (for free, of course), which helps to make the forest healthier. And tree gathering is always a fun social event. Santa’s “musical elves” and Santa himself bring food and instruments. After the work is done, everybody gathers in the cabin for lunch, conversation and music. Including a beautiful song in Portuguese by Elf Kimeon, and a lovely version of Silent Night in German. Yes, Santa’s workshop in Old Town Fort Collins is multilingual, including Spanish, of course.
As Santa and his elves depart, they break into song, harmonizing on a Christmas carol as they disappear down the driveway.
Santa Claus will be in Old Town Fort Collins Wednesday-Sunday through December 23, 12 noon-6:00 p.m., and on December 24—but only until 4 p.m. that day. He’s rather busy that evening and will then be heading back home to the North Pole until next year. You can also visit Santa of Fort Collins on Facebook at https://facebook.com/HereComesSantaClaus/