Bruce Templeton, a longtime member of the Rotary Club of St. John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador, has also been a member of the Santa Claus Hall of Fame since 2014. Geoffrey Johnson, senior editor at Rotary magazine, profiled Templeton for the magazine’s December issue. Here, in Templeton’s own words, are a few more stories from Santa’s gift bag.
In 1979 – when I was 34 – an aunt of mine, the head of crafts for our province, asked if I would appear as Santa at a child’s event. I told her I would think about it. I went to various places and looked at Santa suits. I didn’t like the looks of any of them, so I called her back and said “No.” And she said, “Bruce, if I make the suit, will you do it?” Well, you don’t turn down the director of crafts for your province. What arrived at my house were a suit made of velvet and lambswool, a beard made of real hair, and prescription glasses. It was absolutely flawless. And that was the beginning of my Santa journey.
When I started, I was acting as Santa. But over time, you become so comfortable in a room with children that you begin to believe that you are Santa. Your behavior changes. You’re aware that there are some very serious responsibilities that come with this. I grew into being Santa. It’s something that becomes a part of your life.
Being Santa took on a larger purpose when I realized the responsibility that was being entrusted to me. I was asked to go into very tough situations, like the children’s cancer unit at the hospital. Last year I saw four children who were terminally ill and will not be alive this Christmas. When you’re prepared to make these visits fearlessly and confidently, that’s when you’re really doing the work that – I believe – we are called to do. That is when St. Nicholas joins me, and we bring hope and reassurance.
I sometimes have to find the strength and the peace to go into a senior home or a children’s hospital and visit with someone who is dying. Once I went into the room of a dying child, and the mother was there, and the little baby was in the bed. The mother took a pair of white angel wings from a bag and put them on her daughter’s back. She said, “Would you kiss her on the back of her head to start her on her journey?” So Santa did exactly what the mother asked. Then I took the prayer to St. Nicholas for a sick child from my mailbag. We prayed for peace and for freedom from pain. And then Santa left the room.
Two days later a call came from the hospital. “Mr. Templeton,” they said, “will you come to the children’s department? There’s a letter here for you.” The letter was from the mother. It said, “My daughter and I have gone home. My daughter started to get better the minute you said the prayer for her.” And that little girl lived for another three years before she passed away. And then I went to her funeral.
These are experiences that have nothing to do with playing Santa. It’s something you evolve into, and I only think of it as a calling in Service Above Self.
I’ve had a wonderful time visiting with seniors. There’s a toy company that gives me teddy bears every year, and I give them away on every visit. One year, I went to the senior’s home and heard bells ringing down the hall. I looked up, and there was this dear soul coming down the hall with a walker with Christmas lights on it – and there was a teddy bear hanging from the walker. She said, “Hello, Santa, I fooled you, didn’t I? I’m 100 now, and you gave me this teddy bear when I was 98. You didn’t expect me to be here, did you?” And then she gave me a big hug.
I enjoy giving a senior a chuckle, though I notice enormous differences when I go from room to room. I can go into one room and find a bright senior dressed in a sweet Christmas outfit with flashing lights. In the next room, it might be dark and morose, and I’ll find somebody curled up in bed in a fetal position. When I asked one senior what she would like for Christmas, she said, “Santa, do just one thing. Please tell my family where I am for Christmas. And please tell my family that I love them. “So you find senior’s homes can be highly emotional. As you go from room to room, you never really know what you’re going to encounter.
Every year, we fly 18 children to the North Pole on a real plane. And every year there’s always one child who is terminally ill and not likely to live until next year. The plane – which has Christmas wrapping paper over the windows – takes off, flies around for about 30 minutes, and then lands at the North Pole. That’s when Santa gets on the plane, completely covered in snow. I walk down the aisle and shake snow all over the place. The children go nuts.
We have a seating plan, so we know where every child is seated. Thanks to the parents, we have the one gift the child dreams of getting on Christmas. Every child is given a gift from Santa, and then the plane takes off again. That’s when the kids take the Christmas wrapping off the windows and the children can see they’re landing back in St. John’s on the plane. It’s pretty amazing.
Santa is expected to answer one question from each child. We know the questions from the seating plan, and the further I get into the plane, the more likely I’m going to get some tough questions. Like, “Mommy died in a car accident. Will her spirit be with you in the sleigh on Christmas Eve?”
One year, a little girl on the plane handed me a rolled-up piece of paper and said, “Santa, read this when you get back to the North Pole and call me with your answer.” When I opened that little envelope, it said, “Dear Santa, my name is Emily. For Christmas, I need this more than anything in the world. My puppy dog, Billy, died of cancer. And my mommy says if I am really good, you will bring my puppy back to life and I will find my puppy alive under the tree on Christmas morning. Don’t let me down, Santa. I love you. Your friend, Emily.”
I talked it over with Mrs. Claus (my wife, Paula), and we tried to figure out how to deal with Emily. We got Emily on the phone and said, “Emily, this is Santa and Mrs. Claus back in the North Pole. We just read your beautiful letter. We looked out the big windows here at the North Pole, and your puppy dog is outside. He’s playing tag with Dasher and Dancer and Comet. You would make our Christmas very special if you let your puppy stay with us. Mrs. Claus and I promise we will always look after him.”
And Emily said, “Thank you, Santa. That’s all I needed to know for Christmas. Mommy and I will go to the pound after Christmas, and we’ll find another puppy. You look after my puppy. I know he’s safe with you.”
These are the experiences that we create for children that can’t be bought. It’s part of the privilege of being Santa’s assistant.
Lovely stories. Thank you for sharing
It’s a very good article. Thank you for sharing.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2023 to all Rotarian friends worldwide.
Rtn. Tilak Thapa Magar
District 3292 (Nepal – Bhutan)
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your Santa-experience with us. All the best for you,your wife and all humanity 🌲❄️ 🎅 Christina