FAIRFIELD — Christmas is the family business for Kirk and Laura Sheldon, affectionately known as Mr. and Mrs. Santa.
“More people know me as Santa than as my real name,” Kirk Sheldon said.
Longtime Fairfield resident Kirk Sheldon, 72, has been Santa for 16 years, and Laura “Mrs. Claus” Sheldon for the past 15 years. Before that, Santa was the job of Kirk Sheldon’s uncle Roy Sheldon, who became the Fairfield Santa Claus in the early 1940s and continued in his jolly ways until his death in the 1950s. Roy Sheldon had lost his only son in the Bataan Death March in the early stages of World War II, and he spent his life honoring children. His role as the Fairfield Santa was one of the ways he honored his son.
“I remember my Uncle Roy as Santa when I was a child,” Kirk Sheldon said. “It was always my goal to one day follow in his footsteps and be the Fairfield Santa Claus.”
In April 1996, when he retired as chief of the California Medical Facility’s fire department, Kirk Sheldon started to grow a long white beard. By the time the holiday season came around, he was ready. With a twinkle in his eye, a hall closet full of Santa suits and an endless supply of candy canes, Kirk Sheldon morphed into Santa.
Mr. and Mrs. Santa have appeared over the years at holiday festivals such as Merriment on Main and the Suisun City Christmas Tree Lighting and Boat Parade, as well as at various local schools, twice being donated as “auction items” to benefit a local school. He and his wife also will make Santa visits to private homes on Christmas Eve. In some cases hearing the Christmas wishes of the household through the generations.
Megan (Sheldon) Zieser, granddaughter of Mr. Santa, remembers her grandparents appearing at Cooper School in Vacaville as Mr. and Mrs. Santa for all of her classmates.
“I was so proud I knew Santa,” she said. Now it’s Megan Zieser’s daughter Gracie’s turn to wonder at the family business.
At 1½ years old, Gracie looks on in awe but, like many little ones, refuses to sit on Santa’s lap.
“She was upset to see other kids on her grandfather’s lap during Merriment on Main this year,” Zieser said, laughing.
Even when he is not in his Santa coat, boots and hat, Kirk Sheldon still embodies the spirit of the season.
“The most memorable moments as Santa come at the oddest times,” he said.
A few years ago, he was sipping coffee at an outside table at a Starbucks, dressed in a red shirt and with his long white beard. He heard shouts of “Santa, Santa, Santa” from somewhere in the grocery store parking lot and a small child came running and launched herself into his lap.
The child, who had the serendipitous name of Faith, was critically ill with a terminal skin disease, had lost her ears, and had a face that was a mass of scars. That fact did not dampen her complete joy in getting to meet Santa.
A week later, there was a county adoption party at Jelly Belly, and Kirk Sheldon was asked by the county to play Santa Claus for the three children who were being adopted. From the audience, he once again heard the little voice, “Santa, Santa, Santa!” and here came Faith, running up to him once again.
Kirk Sheldon loves to spend time with the children, getting to know them, and loves hearing their stories. When they ask him if he is the “real” Santa Claus, he answers, “I am whatever you want me to be.” It is important to him that people believe.
On Christmas Eve, when Kirk Sheldon has finished his last home visit as Santa, he shaves off his beard.
“That’s Mrs. Santa’s present. She gets her husband back for Christmas,” he said.
Last year, Kirk Sheldon suffered a heart attack at the start of the Christmas season, and his son, Ward Sheldon II, stepped into the shiny black boots.
“I see a side of kids that most people don’t see and I really enjoy it. When my son did it, he came out a believer,” Kirk Sheldon said.
His son and his wife are ready and willing to take over as Mr. and Mrs. Santa. Kirk Sheldon wants to continue in his role as Mr. Santa, but with his age and health concerns, he is happy to have a back-up.
“When you see me with a clean face you’ll know I’m done,” he said.
Then the pants, the coats and all the stories will be passed on to his son and daughter-in-law. The family tradition will continue.
You can reach Domini Williams at 427-6981 or [email protected]