The man behind the beard is David Bates, Tulsa’s Kris Kringle.
David Bates and his “sled.” He starts preparing for the busy Christmas season in early October.
Many Tulsans put on a suit to go to work. So does David Bates. But his is a little jollier than most. This is Bates’ ninth season to play Santa Claus.
In January 2005, Bates retired from his job with Saint Francis Health System and decided to never shave again. For Halloween that year, he happened to be wearing a red T-shirt and his beard was white. He grabbed an old Santa hat laying nearby and answered the door for some trick-or-treaters.
“The wonderful response I received from the children was beyond description,” Bates recalls. “‘This is the wrong time of the year.’ ‘Where’s
Rudolph?’ It made my day and year.”
That got Bates’ wheels turning.
At the beginning of the 2005 Christmas season, Bates was watching his grandson sing at the Philbrook Museum of Art. Bates spoke to the museum’s Santa and left him his contact information. The museum asked him to fill in the last weekend of the year, and he replaced the former Santa the following year.
The Santa season generally starts around the first of October for Bates. That’s when he has his beard trimmed. He also checks his suit for wear and tear, and polishes his boots. In addition to making his list and checking it twice, of course.
His bookings vary each year, but Bates has visited a variety of locations as Santa. While Santa seekers are most likely to see him at Philbrook, he also visits Gilcrease Museum, the Tulsa Country Club, corporate Christmas parties, hospitals, schools and homes. He sits and visits with the children and adults at each event and takes pictures with them.
Christmas Eve is usually his busiest day, sometimes with five or six visits in one evening.
In 2006, Bates attended a get-together of Santas in Branson, Mo. There he networked with other Santas and received training on how to become a better Santa and how to deal with difficult children and adults. He was even asked to do a short commercial for the city of Branson later that year. (View it at TulsaPeople.com/santa.)
Bates says the most challenging part of being Santa is not over-extending himself with too many events. But he hates to say “no.” The best part, he says, is experiencing “the unconditional love and joy that a child brings.” He adds, “But it is not just the children, but the older adults. You see it in their eyes as they remember many joyous Christmases past.”
Occasionally, children will ask Bates if he’s “real.” He always asks, “What do you think?”
Bates says he plans to be Santa for 30 or more years. Just like in the 1994 movie “The Santa Clause,” Bates says the longer he performs, the more he becomes the man.
This year Bates will assist the U.S. Marines with their Toys for Tots distribution in Broken Arrow. His next adventure includes the lot beside his house. He bought the land in hopes to someday create a “Santa’s workshop” for parents and children to visit.
How to be a successful Santa
- Love the children, both the good and the bad. “I have had several opportunities to be a ‘mall Santa,’” Bates says. “However, working seven days a week from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve? No, thank you. These Santas get the children who are worn out and cranky from shopping.”
- Men who portray Santa must be sure of themselves, he says, or the children will sense their insecurity. With the love and adoration of so many, some Santas think they are the most important person in the world. And to the children, they are.
- An understanding wife is most important. “My wife has been very helpful in the last few years,” Bates says. “She goes with me usually where there are lots of young children. Her nearly 30 years of experience as a kindergarten teacher gives a calmness among the children during my visit, which makes my appearance much easier.”