A day in the life of Santa Claus

The holiday season is a busy time of year for everyone, but no more than Jolly Ole Saint Nicholas.
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 5:06 PM EST
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(NOTE: Families, the text below reveals some secrets about Christmastime magic. The video above does not reveal any secrets!)

WAYNESBORO, Va. (WHSV) - The holiday season is a busy time of year for everyone, but no more than Jolly Ole Saint Nicholas.

One local man, Mark Russell, also known as Santa Mark, knows better than most how to make the holidays special for Valley kids. He spends a lot of his time serving as Santa Claus at places like Christmas Wonderland and Creative Works Farm.

Mark Russell serves as Santa Claus at Christmas Wonderland.
Mark Russell serves as Santa Claus at Christmas Wonderland.(WHSV)

“It makes me feel wonderful. I lose myself in the experiences as much as they do. They’re excited to see me. I’m excited to see their excitement,” said Russell.

This is his 13th year as Santa Claus. He’s retired, and the career started at the request of an employer.

“I wasn’t enthralled with the bright red Santa suit and the fake beard and the fake hair and those kinds of things,” he said.

If he was going to do it, he was going to do it right.

Mark Russell said even out of costume, he's mistaken for the jolly elf.
Mark Russell said even out of costume, he's mistaken for the jolly elf.(WHSV)

“[That] meant growing out a beard, my hair’s been long for quite some time, so that wasn’t an issue. It’s been the right color for quite some time also,” Russell said. “That’s when I decided to be a little bit more professional about it and do it as something for children, as opposed to for an employer.”

In the beginning, he was stopping by retail stores for a little Christmas magic. Now, he sees over 1,000 kids in three nights at Christmas Wonderland at Camp LIGHT in Waynesboro.

“It makes me feel wonderful. I lose myself in the experiences as much as they do. They’re excited to see me. I’m excited to see their excitement,” he said. “There is no better feeling than a five, six, seven year old who spots you from 50 feet away and screams ‘santa!’ and comes and hurls themselves into your lap. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Just like other jobs, being Santa can be exhausting. Appearances are long, and there’s a lot involved. Russell said there might be a day when he does fewer long appearances.

“I can see a time when I wouldn’t do it as much, but I can also see a time when I would do it because I love it,” he said.

Christmas Wonderland is sold out for the year, but they are still looking for volunteers in various roles. For more information on that, click here.