By Miriam Landru
Raeford’s Stephen Pate is perhaps Fayetteville’s most sought-after Santa Claus. His past theatre experience and charming personality make him a popular choice for Kris Kringle.
In this Q&A, he shares his life as Santa as well as some informational tidbits. Did you know that the idea of Saint Nicholas started in present day Turkey?!
When did you start working as Santa Claus?
“1986 in Greensboro, NC. I got asked by the marketing director from Four Seasons Towne Center. She knew that I had been doing theatre in Greensboro and the owner of the mall wanted to start a historical Santa program… the history of Santa Claus around the world. They wanted good character actors. Saint Nicholas, the original, the ‘boy bishop’ was actually born in present day Turkey… that was the start of Santa as we know it today. It was an entirely different costume. I did the medieval Santa Claus and the French Father Christmas, Pere Noel.
I dressed in authentic costume and also as English Father Christmas with a brown beard and all the furs. Those are the main ones I did. I also played the regular ‘Santa’ for four years.”
Where have you worked as Santa in Fayetteville?
“When I moved to Fayetteville in the early 1990s, I worked at Westwood Shopping Center and Mr. Lonnie Player would say, ‘How do you like our little Santa?’ I also worked at Marketfair, Cross Creek Mall, Highland Country Club and Carlton Hubbard Photography. This year I will be at Playdate at Westwood Shopping Center, the Haymount United Methodist Church Breakfast with Santa, Holly Day Fair, Lumberton Christmas Parade, among other places and events.”
What do you enjoy most about being Santa?
“The biggest thing is the children and seeing their faces light up. Sometimes kids are scared but the ones who aren’t will run up and jump in your lap and almost hurt you. I’ve learned to never be surprised as to what they’re going to say and they tell on their parents. Children are honest. It’s so much fun to see the parents watch their kids talk to me.”
How do you get into character?
“Well, I stay in character. Even if you see me right now people call me ‘Santa.’ The minute I start putting on anything red, I get to feeling like Santa. And then I look in the mirror and I see my white beard and I definitely feel like Santa. Once I put on the outfit, I start feeling a little different. I’ll change my voice… and then I’m Santa Claus.”
Favorite Christmas Carol?
“I sing a lot. If I get bored, I’ll start singing… HO HO HO!!! I love Christmas music. I love the carol ‘White Christmas’ and who doesn’t like ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?’”
What has been one of your most unique gift requests?
“One time at Cross Creek Mall, a young couple came, and the girl sat down. I asked the girl what she wanted for Christmas and she laughed and so I said, ‘What about a diamond ring?’ Then the man jumped down and proposed. For the kids, when you say unique… it’s the simplicity… some kids ask for the latest thing. But some kids will say ‘get me whatever you want and make sure all the boys and girls get gifts as well. But one of the most unique and special things that happened to me was when a little girl asked I knew Jesus and tears started going into my eyes.”