Jim Dyer’s frosty beard, furry hat, red suit, twinkling eyes
and easy “ho, ho, ho” immediately identify him as Santa Claus in the dozens of
holiday settings where he plays that role each year.
Even without the suit he can hardly walk down the street
without people stopping to stare, whisper and point. But it is Dyer’s heart for
Jesus that enables him to uniquely meld the symbol of modern holiday excess
with the spiritual, deep flowing origins of Christmas that celebrate the birth
Some of the men who like Dyer, 64, “become” Santa each
November and December, are Christians whose red suits open doors into parties,
special events and homes to share the real meaning of Christmas.
“Our role as a Christian Santa is to tell them the
background of St. Nicholas and be sure the messenger does not overshadow the
message of Christmas,” Dyer said. “We are celebrating Jesus’ birthday.”
The generosity of the original Saint Nicholas and his love
for children are the basis from which the modern, mythical Santa Claus arose.
Nicholas was born in the third century to wealthy parents who died when he was
young. He sold his inheritance to help the needy, the sick and the suffering
and eventually became Bishop of Myra in what is modern Turkey.
The legend of Saint Nicholas has been adjusted to the many
cultures that adopted it, until today, most churches would not consider having
a Santa help them celebrate Jesus’ birth.
This, Dyer said, despite the historical truth that Nicholas
was “a pillar of the church, who embodied sacrificial giving and was a defender
of youth.” Dyer said more churches are named after St. Nicholas than any person
other than Jesus.
Dyer, who grew up at the Baptist Children’s Homes’ Kennedy
Home campus, is a retired Army helicopter pilot and a former real estate agent,
mortgage broker and corporate chaplain. He was ordained at age 55 by Bay Leaf
Baptist Church in Wake Forest.
“The Lord has been good to me,” said Dyer, whose rosy life
has plenty of thorns. “I know it’s not theologically sound but it seems like I
have a greater joy and the Lord loves me more than others. I have a greater joy
than so many other Christians I know that it seems they were weaned on a sour
Despite being abandoned by his father and turned over by a
mother “with no marketable skills” to be raised at Kennedy Home and despite
tours in the battlefields of Vietnam, and despite job and family issues that
would drive others to distraction, Dyer’s joy is irrepressible.
Santa from the heart
It is that twinkling eye and genuine love for the task that
makes Dyer a busy Santa.
“Being a Santa comes from the heart,” he said. “You have to
have the right expression on your face and in your eyes to let children know
you love them, and are listening to them and they are special.”
At every opportunity Dyer asks children, “Do you know why we
celebrate Christmas?” In private home functions his goal is to be able to pray
with the family, and to read the gospel story of Christmas aloud.
Dyer, whose beard is naturally salt and pepper, shaves it
off by New Year’s Day because it takes a lot of work to keep it bleached white
Typically he stops shaving after July 4 festivities, and he
has a flowing beard by Nov. 1.
“There comes a point when it’s hard to manage,” he said.
“Imagine trying to eat with this much hair on your face, and it’s white. I
have to drink my coffee out of a sipper cup in the morning or it looks like I
have a dirty mouth.”
He has been playing Santa for 35 years. It is not uncommon
for him to have three and four engagements a day in December, but he makes time
for special events for soldiers and children, especially for those who are ill
or under stress. On Dec. 9 he passed up several paying gigs to be Santa at a
Wounded Warriors event at Fort Bragg. “I really get a lot of joy out of
bringing joy to others,” said the member of Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh.
“It energizes me.”
If a child asks Dyer if he is the “real Santa,” he looks
over his glasses and asks, “What do you think?”
Children don’t reason like an adult, so if they see several
Santas on a shopping trip, they simply understand Santa can be in more than one
place at a time, and that he has a lot of helpers.
Even without his fur trim and red suit, Dyer looks like
Santa the moment he steps out of the salon with his beard and hair freshly
“I’m not self conscious about it until I look up and see a
couple kids staring at me and I put my finger to my lips and say ‘Shhhh.’”
To teach children to limit their selfish wishes, sometimes
when a child recites a list longer than his arm, Dyer will smile and say, “My
word that’s a lot of stuff. Is that all for you?”
He says he might have to review a list of that length. More
difficult are the children’s requests for healing a pet or family member.
Dyer has learned from a fellow Santa to carry a book that
the child can assume is the “naughty and nice” book. But in the back are the
pages where Santa writes the things he is going to pray about.
He will tell the child of those pending prayers, which leads
to more understanding of the spiritual aspects of this special season.
“It’s a pretty exciting time to bring the fun of being Santa
and the real joy of Christmas together,” said Santa … err … Dyer.
Visit Dyer’s web site: www.thewakeforestsanta.com.