- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Santa Claus has long been known as the fulfiller of dreams, for kids from 1 to 92. But sometimes, just getting to play the North Pole’s head honcho can be the biggest dream come true.

For Peter Hood, being Santa Claus is a family business.

When he was a child, he was going through his parents’ closet and he found a suit. When he asked his mom what it was, she explained that his father dressed up as Santa for different organizations.

So the first time Hood donned that crushed red velvet, fur-trimmed suit, he was 15 years old, and he was in a bit of a rush. One of the local hospitals needed a Santa Claus and his mother called on him.

“She said, ‘Put that on and go over there!’” he said. Without a second thought, he did.

Now, at 53, Hood is a seasoned Santa veteran. He’s seen and heard just about everything as the beloved children’s figure. He’s played Santa for the Springfield Park District’s Santa House for 37 years. And there have been some instances when he’s been a real-life St. Nick.

One year, he recalled, a little boy who lived down the street from the Southwind Park Santa House had asked for a skateboard. So Hood went home, found an old skateboard of his at home, fixed it up and left it on the boy’s front porch.

“The next day, he was up and down the whole parking lot,” Hood said. “Like it was the best one he could ever get.”

In all his years playing Santa, though, his favorite stories are of the children who don’t ask for much. One year, Hood met a kid who just asked for food, and it stuck with him.

“To me, that’s kind of my mission work,” he said.

A Santa story

One of Jim Cox’s favorite movies is the “A Christmas Story.” In Ralphie’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun, he visits Santa Claus at the mall to beg for his dream present - only to be shot down, then pushed down a slide with Santa’s boot.

For Cox, his memories of Christmas mirror many scenes in the movie, including the Santa House at the Old State Capitol Plaza in downtown Springfield. Little did he know that when he got older he’d be in the house himself - but he tries very hard to be a warm and welcoming Santa.

Even without his suit, the 72-year-old retiree looks like Santa. In his glasses and white beard, people have told him that he would make a great St. Nick.

This is his third year playing Santa. The first year he was asked to sit in for the Henson Robinson Zoo. Then last year when Downtown Springfield was looking for a Santa, Cox’s name came up.

“I already had the outfit,” he said, “so I figured I might as well put it to use.”

In his three years as a Santa, he’s heard a whole host of weird requests from different kids. His first year, a young boy asked him for yard tools. This year, a kid asked for a giant snake.

“Just the other night, one boy asked me for some bacon soap,” he said. “I’d never heard of bacon soap before. So that one kind of threw me.”

But Cox’s favorite part about getting to be Santa is talking with the kids. He says he loves listening to their stories and hearing their requests, both conventional and non-conventional.

“You never know what they’re going to say,” he said. “And they have such a great time talking to Santa . I think I have as much fun as the kids do, really.”

Future Claus

Though both Hood and Cox took different paths to becoming Santa, they both share the same reasons for putting on the suit every year.

The future is a different story. Hood has been playing Santa for so long, he doesn’t know when he’ll stop. But he’s already planning on passing his suit down to his 28-year-old son, who’s already started playing Santa for different charitable organizations.

“(My dad) handed his suit to me, and I’m going to hand it down to my son,” he said. “Like a family tradition.”

Though Cox hasn’t been Santa as long as Hood has, he’s had a wealth of wonderful experiences that he cherishes. And he hopes to continue portraying St. Nick for as long as he can.

“As long as they have me,” he said. “We’ll take it a year at a time. And you never know when the phone’s going to ring.”

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Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, https://bit.ly/1Gpgx4N

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Information from: The State Journal-Register, https://www.sj-r.com


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