Walter Holland has worn the Santa suit for more than 20 years in Lyndeborough
|Published: 12-08-2022 11:29 AM
There are certain benefits to growing out a white beard.
For Walter Holland of Lyndeborough, it gives a certain extra gravitas to his role as town and school moderator. It lends a bit of extra credibility in his role as commander of the town’s Lafayette Artillery.
And, 22 years ago, it netted him the role of the town’s Santa Claus.
Around 2000, Holland was approached by Nadine Preftakes, on behalf of the Fire Department Association, which organizes the annual tree-lighting and usually ferries Santa by fire truck from the fire station to the town common.
“She said, ‘Walter, we’d like you to be the Santa this year,’” he said.
The previous year, Holland was told, Santa was a 19-year-old firefighter with a fake beard and belly. That year, they were looking for someone who was a bit more convincing.
“I was a little shy about it. I’d never done it before, and I didn’t want to disappoint the kids,” Holland recalled.
But he eventually agreed, and thus started a tradition that has lasted more than two decades.
“It’s just seeing the joy in the children’s faces, and listening to their wishes and dreams,” Holland said. “There’s just something magic in believing in Santa Claus, and that there’s something special out there. I try my best to respect that and preserve that.”
It’s a responsibility Holland takes seriously. One year, he misplaced Santa’s iconic white gloves, and was jokingly scolded by a parent. Now, he said, he keeps a spare pair that he purchased at Putnam’s in Wilton before its closing.
Another time, he asked a young child her name, only to be told she had visited him last year.
“She asked, ‘Don’t you remember me?’ and that broke my heart a bit – now I greet them differently,” Holland said.
Some children, particularly young ones, are fascinated and want to touch his beard or glasses. Others are shy or cry, and can only be convinced to take a picture with Santa if their parents are with them, but then come back the next year with more confidence.
He has some special memories with adults, too. One year, after a social hour where Holland was Santa, after the children had left, he was approached by Polly Kinnick of Wilton, who asked to convey a Christmas wish.
“I said, ‘So, little girl, what do you want for Christmas?’” he said.
Kinnick had replied that she was 96 years old, and would like to see 100.
Holland told her he’d see what he could do, and to make sure to come back and see him when she turned 100. Kinnick lived to be 103.
Holland has kept up the tradition, and has only missed three years as the town’s Santa – once due to a serious back injury, and in 2020 and 2021, when the town didn’t hold celebrations due to COVID-19.
In 2021, he still got to don the suit, however, for a trip to visit family in the Midwest, when he brought his Santa accouterments to have a special moment with his great-grandniece.
“That was pretty special, being able to spread some Santa cheer. Photos of that get-together are something the family will have for a long time,” Holland said.
Having been on the job so long, Holland said he gets the opportunity to see the children grow. Some of the children who were sitting on his knee and telling him their childhood Christmas wishes are now parents in their own right, bringing their children to him. Others, he has seen come through the voting polls as first-time voters, where he gifts them a pocket Constitution to welcome them to adulthood and their life as a voting citizen.
While he only dons the red suit in December, Holland has made it a tradition to cut his beard only once a year – right after Town Meeting – and as perhaps Santa’s most iconic feature, it does mean that he occasionally gets recognized as Santa in his everyday life.
Once, while on vacation in North Carolina, while wearing a T-shirt and shorts in a restaurant, a little girl approached him, and asked Holland – or rather, Santa – if she could sing him her favorite song.
Another time, while at a barbeque, a friend’s child approached him wondering why he hadn’t gotten the model train set he’d requested from Santa.
“I respect the children, and always play along, and talk to them a bit. And I always say, you have to be good, because you never know when you’re going to see Santa, or one of his helpers. It’s a big responsibility to be Santa,” Holland said.
And it’s a tradition he plans to continue, as long as he has the strength to lift children onto his knee.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.]]>