Claus with a cause
Professional Santa Jim Thibodeau exudes a cheerful disposition for each child who opens up about what he or she wants for Christmas, convincing the kids he’s the real Mr. Claus. The 61-year-old Maine native, a former electrical and mechanical technician, moved to Chico in 2007, and it’s here where he began his career. Thibodeau suffered a stroke in 2010 and, while recovering, let his hair grow, noticing it coming in all white. At about the same time, he began coming across ads for becoming a professional Santa. Thibodeau attended the Charles Howard Professional Santa Claus School in Midland, Mich., in 2011, and began his company, Santa and Friends, last year. As the Chico Claus looks back, he’s realized: “You don’t choose to be Santa—Santa chooses you.” Go to www.tinyurl.com/ChicoSanta to contact Thibodeau.
At what moment did you know Santa had chosen you?
It was Christmas Preview two years ago. I was down there with a red coat and a Santa hat. I had more people coming up to me than the professional Santa they hired for the Christmas Preview. I knew after that night that I was definitely going to pursue a career as a professional Santa.
What are some of your memorable experiences?
I worked at a mall in Wisconsin this past Christmas, a very upscale mall. We saw 4,700 children in six weeks, so we were pretty busy. One of the experiences was actually with a 37-year-old man. I stopped at a Target on my way back to my motel, still half-dressed in my Santa costume. The guy turns around and he goes, “Hey Santa,” and just as calm as calm can be he says, “Can you put in a good word for me? I need a new heart. I’m 37 and I have cardiomyopathy. If I don’t get a new heart, I’m going to die.” He had all the gadgets attached to his body; at first I thought he was a store technician. We had a talk, we embraced, and just before we left he said, “By the way—it’s not for me, it’s really for my 6-year-old son.”
What has surprised you about this line of work?
I found that being a Santa was not only a calling and a gift, but it’s also a mission, too. The other memorable experience was again with an adult. It was two days before Christmas. I had just talked with a 6-year-old little girl, and the little girl’s mom comes up to me and said, “Santa, can I talk to you for a little bit?” She said, “I’m going in for a brain operation the day after Christmas.” We talked, went through all the emotions with this person. I will never forget that conversation, ever. Those are incredible stories that make you aware that what you are doing is really worthwhile. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in all my life.