- Associated Press - Friday, December 16, 2016

PROVO, Utah (AP) - On a cold December evening, a small group of families gathers in a Mormon church in Orem to have a Christmas party. As the adults enjoy food and drinks and catch up with one another, a circle of children sits at one end of the open community hall singing “Jingle Bells.” As they sing, the faint sound of sleigh bells mixes with their voices. Moments later, as the children sing “laughing all the way,” Santa Claus appears in a doorway and shouts, “ho ho ho!”

The children turn, their mouths agape as the man in red jaunts toward them with the sleigh bells around his shoulder echoing throughout the room. He kneels next to the circle of youths and suggests in a merry tone that they all sing “Jingle Bells” and shake his sleigh bells. The children eagerly oblige.

After a few songs, jokes, and children making trips to Santa’s lap to exclaim their Christmas wish lists, it was Santa’s time to leave. He exited as he entered, bells a-ringing and hearty “ho ho hos” filling the air. Children ran after him, hands pressed against the glass as parents pulled them away from the front doors of the chapel.

As he melded into the darkness of the parking lot, David Carter began to drop character as he climbed into his silver Toyota truck and headed home, still dressed as Saint Nick.

When he’s not spreading joy dressed as Santa Claus on weekends during the holiday, Carter can be found at Pleasant Grove High School, where he serves as the assistant principal. He’s been the assistant principal for three years, after 10 years of teaching business and marketing at the school. Only a handful of people at the school know about his holiday moonlighting, reported the Daily Herald (https://bit.ly/2gXcyW3).

“There’s some students that know, because I’ve been their Santa at family parties,” explained Carter in his office at school.

Hints of his jolly alter ego can be inferred from his collection of Coca-Cola bottles, several of which depict Santa, atop a vintage Coca-Cola machine as well as a mug on his desk that showcases a photo of him dressed as Santa Claus. Though, with only his eyes and nose visible, it’s hard to identify Carter through his Santa costume. Through his years as Santa, Carter incidentally familiarized himself with two students long before they were high school students.

“They’re both seniors, and I’ve been their Santa since they were probably about 5 or 6,” said Carter. One of them once found himself in Carter’s office. “I knew who he was, but he had no idea about my other side. Then he saw that mug, did a double take, and put it together that I had known him awhile,” he recalled with a laugh.

Carter has been stepping in for Santa throughout Utah County for the past 21 years. But, his holiday hobby isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s a family tradition.

The Carters have been dressing up as Santa Claus for local families and events since 1936 - beginning with David’s grandfather, Elmo Carter. Elmo worked at a metal plant that turned various metals into pipes. His first stint as the man in red occurred when his boss asked him if he’d dress up as Santa to deliver food to a needy family. Elmo agreed, and enjoyed being Santa so much that when the holidays rolled around the next year, he bought a suit for himself and started visiting families on his own. The Carters have been spreading holiday cheer each year since then.

“Never a year missed,” said Tom Carter, the second generation of the three generations of Santa Clauses in the family.

Tom’s taste of the family tradition began his senior year of high school. While he was at school, his father called the office and asked to excuse him from classes so he could cover a party at an elementary school he was unable to attend. Tom had tagged along with his father to gigs a few times, so he knew the routine and filled in seamlessly.

After graduating high school, Tom served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Upon returning home, his father got him a Santa suit of his own and brought him completely into the family tradition. “That first year I did 10 or 11 parties, and it grew from there,” said Tom.

As Elmo grew older, Tom covered more and more of the holiday parties and eventually took the reins as the family’s chief Santa Claus, and he along with a few others have kept the family tradition alive.

After 40 years of visiting families, Tom retired from his role of Santa in 2005 and now the tradition lies with the third generation of the Carter family. Currently, five relatives in the family continue to suit up as Santa: two in Utah County, two in Salt Lake County, and one in Idaho. Though the role of Santa has seen several casting changes, the Carters still entertain a few families that date back to Elmo Carter’s first days as Santa in the late 1930s.

“It’s been my whole life,” said David. “For me, my uncle and my grandpa were my Santa Claus.” Like his father, David inherited the family tradition when he returned home from a LDS mission in 1995.

The Carters primarily rely on word-of-mouth to continue their gigs, and the list of parties has never been short. Referrals are passed from generation to generation like the party routines, and even the sleigh bells David uses once belonged to his grandfather Elmo decades ago.

Three years ago, David was doing about 70 parties between the weekend after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. His gigs vary from typical private family parties, to parties for grown-ups, and charity events. Since marrying seven months ago, his Santa duties have cut back to make time for his wife and six children. However, he gets out as much as he can to continue the family tradition. “I’m a different person when I put the suit on,” said David with a smile. “It’s a rush when you walk in the door.”

“It’s satisfying because once you’ve put on that suit, there seems to be some magic that happens,” said Tom. “It’s absolutely amazing. I went to some families for all 40 years. I went from having little kids sit on my lap, to having their kids sit on my lap.”

Though those in the Santa costume and those upon his lap have changed over the years, the Carters have been consistent in their goal of spreading holiday cheer to all in Utah County. For now, David and his generation of relatives work to keep the holidays bright, until the suits and bells are passed on to the Santas of the next generation.

___

Information from: The Daily Herald, https://www.heraldextra.com

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