While Santa is at the North Pole making toys for good little boys and girls, he assigns helpers to dress up on his behalf and bring cheer to children during the holiday season.
For over 15 years, Ken Thurman has been a stand-in for jolly old Saint Nick in Cleveland and estimates meeting over a thousands of kids.
"I've really enjoyed having the opportunity to play Santa Claus and step outside of my normal personality.”
Thurman began donning the red suit when the real Santa Claus asked him to stand-in at the Cleveland Country Club's annual Christmas Dinner.
Throughout the years, he has played Santa at events in downtown Cleveland and Bayou Academy, and worked with the Bolivar County Community Action Agency and assisted living facilities.
He said his favorite part about playing Santa is meeting kids with special needs, which he refers to as gifted children.
"I try to go to the homes of parents and grandparents who have gifted children. I have one who I have gone to see every year for the past 10 years. He is autistic and Santa would go and play with him and his boxes of gifts."
Beforehand, he said he calls the parents and tries to find out as much information about the children as he can, such as names and hobbies.
"I try to make it special to them so that they continue to truly believe. The old saying that I grew up with is, 'If you don't believe in Santa Claus, you get underwear.'"
He cites delivering presents to underprivileged children as a highlight of his time as Santa.
Thurman said, "When I worked at Baxter, we did the adopt-a-family with the Community Action Agency program. It touched my heart to see those families whose mommas didn't know if they were going to be able to have Christmas that year.
"Then all of a sudden, a big guy shows up with presents for the kids. It's moments like that that puts a hole in your heart."
Thurman said Christmas was very important to him growing up and he attributes his love for the holiday to his mother Mary Pearl Thurman.
"Christmas was a very special time for my mother when she was alive. She always made Christmas day special. She loved it so much that she would start shopping for gifts by Jan. 1.
Thurman said growing up, besides celebrating the birth of Jesus, Santa was the symbol of the season.
"It was the day that my family got together and I got to continue that tradition," said Thurman, adding that love for Christmas only grew, as he got older.
He said, "When I was in college, I worked for Howard Griffin's Lands of Toys, and growing up I saw Santa Claus and how special it was to all the little ones. When I had the opportunity to take the role, I jumped at the chance.
Thurman said he plans to continue helping as Santa Claus as long as he can for his one-year-old grandson Matthew Oliver Hayslip and for all the children in Cleveland who are on Santa's nice list.
"When you see the little twinkle in (the kid's) eyes, it makes it just as special for me as it is for them. There is a lot of gratitude that comes with it."
If anyone wants to see Thurman in his Santa suit, he will be at the Selfies with Santa Event from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at the Gazebo downtown on the greenstrip.
Afterwards, he will meet with a two-year old girl at her grandmother's house.
"Her other grandkids have all meet Santa Claus at her house, but (the little girl) hasn't. So I'm going to have her meet Santa," Thurman said.