Seniors: 'Santa Tom' Eldredge: The Real Thing

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

"Santa Tom" Eldredge.

Go ahead. Try to pull off Tom Eldredg'e Santa beard.
“Ouch! It's the real thing,” he says, with a Santa-esque belly laugh. “After all, I am a member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.”
Eldredge, who lives in Chatham, says that he had a normal child's love of Santa Claus as a boy, but not the slightest idea that he would one day don the red suit himself.
“I think like a lot of kids, I reached the age of 11, 12 and I started to think that maybe Santa was for the younger kids,” he recalls. “Now I know better. Now I am him. No second guesses for one minute. I am Santa.”
Santa Tom started portraying the man in red in 2002, bringing joy to family and friends at small gatherings as well as at the A & P grocery store where he worked. He feels that of his siblings, which include a brother and two sisters, he was gifted with his mother's emotions.
“I really feel it,” he says. “That excitement I see on the children's faces when they first come through a door and see me there. The feeling! Feeling their excitement and reflecting it back to them, that gleam in their eyes. Or the joy in the faces of people I visit at a rehab center, the way their faces light up into a beautiful smile. It is just wonderful.”
A key moment in Santa Tom's evolution into true Santahood happened when he first met the one and only Cape Cod Santa, also known as Santa Scott.
“I'd never met him, but I'd always wanted to. I wanted to ask him so many questions! So three years ago, we met up at Dunkin Donuts,” Santa Tom says. “He said, 'Who are your reindeer?' I had to admit-- I didn't have an answer. Then he asked me, 'What about your secret key?' I didn't have an answer for that one either.”
Secret key?
“Of course! How can Santa deliver presents all over the world on Christmas Eve when some houses have no chimneys? No fireplaces? He needs his secret key! Cape Cod Santa became a real mentor for me. He taught me a lot that I never knew.”
Being Santa isn't all Christmas cookies, jingle bells and sugarplums. What about when a shy child or a bashful baby won't cooperate with parents' desires for a photo with Santa?
“It's always a sad situation when parents try to insist that a child must have a picture taken when the child is clearly upset and crying, and genuinely afraid. That makes me feel very bad. It does bother me,” Santa Tom admits. “But I have a few ideas for situations like that. The biggest thing is interacting with the child. I am happy to get down on the floor and play with the child, anything to put them at ease. I will do anything for a picture. And if all else fails, I can quietly step up behind a child who has been calmed and reassured and the photo can be snapped with me smiling over the shoulder-- the child doesn't even have to know I am there. I had great success once with a little boy who was afraid-- I told his father to be ready with the camera, and I was able to quietly stand next to the little boy's shoulder as he was happily absorbed in having his face painted. He was happily unaware, and the parents got a wonderful picture.”
Santa Tom's love of greeting children and interacting with families can't be stopped, even by an injury. He once insisted on participating in a parade even though he was suffering from a broken heel.
“I just couldn't stand not approaching and saying hello to all the people on the parade route,” he recalls. “So at one point when the parade slowed and paused, I carefully climbed down form my sleigh and hobbled over to play with some kids along the way. I was having so much fun that when the parade started moving again, I didn't even notice until I heard voices farther up the street saying 'Where's Santa? His sleigh is empty!' I was helped back into my sleigh, and it took four guards to keep me from getting out again!”
Will there ever come a time when Santa Tom will retire and hang up his hat?
“Sometimes I get up early in the morning to get ready to go to an event, and I am getting dressed, and it's cold, and it feels like too much. It's too early. At times like this I tell my wife, Diana, who often joins me as Mrs. Claus, 'This might be the last year. It's just too early.' She just smiles at me. When that first child walks up to sit on my lap with that light of wonder in his or her eyes, we both know that ain't ever gonna happen. I am Santa forever. It's just so much fun!”
Santa Tom will be at his workshop in the Chatham Chamber of Commerce's information booth on Main Street during the 38th annual Christmas by the Sea Stroll Weekend on Friday. Dec. 9 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and on Sunday, Dec. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. Email to invite Santa to your holiday event.