For Billy Joe Thompson, being Santa Claus doesn’t end after the month of December; it’s a year-round endeavor.
Thompson, best known for his public appearances at the Orlando Museum of Art’s Festival of Trees as well as being on the billboard for 88.3 FM, has been the character of Santa for 27 years. However, Thompson said that being Santa is more than just being a character.
“For me, Santa is about bringing joy,” Thompson said. “Bringing joy shouldn’t just be a chore during Christmas time — it’s a character and a person that I aim to be all year round.”
Thompson said that although he always loved Christmas and the tear-jerking Hallmark movies, he never imagined being Santa in his younger years. Thompson has been working on designing restaurants and has done so for the past 35 years since he opened his own business, Almost New and New Inc.
The 77-year-old said that he took an interest in becoming Santa when he was asked to dress up as the character with a fake beard, fake boots and fake belt. Thompson said that the fake attire didn’t really appeal to him. Thompson was the first real-bearded Santa to appear in Central Florida, where there are now over 30.
“I dressed up and thought, ‘Well, this just isn’t really right,”’ Thompson said. “I wanted to give children the experience of a real Santa, not only just in terms of looks but in personality as well.”
During the months of November and December, Thompson said he generally makes 30 to 44 appearances around the Central Florida area, none of which he uses as a source of income.
St. Nick’s appearances are kicked off by the Festival of Trees put on by the OMA. Here, Santa greets people of all ages and figures out who made the naughty and nice lists.
Aside from his public appearances, Thompson also makes private appearances at assisted-living facilities, schools and other organizations to visit with people in need.
“Although it is difficult when I hear people asking for things I can’t fix, like bringing back a deceased family member or a dad or husband from overseas, nothing can take away from the smile that lights up a child’s face upon seeing Santa,” Thompson said.
Thompson said that he meets children from all different backgrounds, some who ask for the brand-new iPhone and some who he knows the only gift they may receive is the candy cane handed to them by the jolly fellow. Other times, Thompson visits dementia patients with their families in order to build their connections back through Christmas carols, if even for just a few moments.
Santa’s greatest helper is his wife, Carol, who helps him with his two-hour routine before events and drives him to and from appearances with the “sleigh” license plate prominently showing on the back of their vehicle. However, Thompson said that she could never be Mrs. Claus because she is far too young while she claims that there can only be one character in the family.
“The Lord has blessed me with this purpose, and I never plan to take it for granted,” Thompson said.
Thompson said that this holiday season, he hopes to continue to be able to provide Christmas cheer and joy in people’s lives. Santa said that, in case anyone was wondering, oatmeal raisin and sugar cookies are his favorite.