Santa Claus is real, and he lives in Gainesville.
He visits churches, homes, schools and country clubs, bringing Christmas cheer to children, and his name is Chris Wolski.
Wolski, 66, has been playing Santa for private parties for more than 15 years, and he loves the season that helps him bring the spirit and legends of the holidays to life.
“The kids, the way they look at you, it’s like you’re something magical,” Wolski said.
Wolski is one of two Santas based in Gainesville, according to the website Gig Salad, which connects event planners with performers and party vendors. Almost 20 Santas live in Georgia and can serve the Gainesville area, according to Gig Salad.
But no Santa started out playing the jolly old elf in the red suit. Once upon a time, each Santa Claus had different occupations, including Wolski, who was in a band.
“Before I got into what I do now, I was a touring musician,” Wolski said. “Now, my day job is an entertainment producer, where I produce shows with celebrities, artists and others for events.”
After he settled down from the touring life, Wolski lived in a local subdivision when he was approached to play Santa in the neighborhood festivities.
“They provided the suit and beard and everything, and I had so much fun that first year that I just kept doing it,” he said.
Word soon got out about the man playing Santa, and churches and schools began to ask him to come to their events. Then, he put an ad out in an email to his client base, and requests poured in.
Despite his other jobs, being Santa Claus is still a full-time gig for Wolski since he tries to be as authentic as possible.
“After about two or three years, I got tired of the fake beard,” Wolski said. “I had a beard most of my life anyway, so I decided to grow it out, and it worked.”
Now, Wolski begins letting his beard grow in April and gets it bleached to make it the pure white of Santa Claus. Once the season is over, he shaves it off and spends a few months just being Chris.
But for the few months he is the jolly old elf, Wolski spends plenty of time suiting up, donning the red cheeks and glasses and giving that wholesome belly laugh children expect.
“The only downside is getting up to get ready,” he said. “I get up about an hour and a half before I have to leave. If I’m doing multiple events in one day, I’ll take extra T-shirts with me to change into under the suit.”
The process to transform from Chris Wolski into Kriss Kringle takes a while. Aside from growing his beard, the Gainesville man wakes up early to don his 10- to 15-pound costume which includes the red suit, black boots and belt and the red hat. Then he climbs into his trusty sleigh — or his private vehicle — and drives all across Northeast Georgia for events. And he truly enjoys each job.
“For me, it’s a perfect opportunity to impart some wisdom on kids,” he said. “I ask if they’ve been good, if they’ve been minding their parents, and I tell them that minding their parents is an important thing, along with being kind, respectful and other things.”
Wolski portrays Santa for civic groups, private parties, churches and schools including a big event called “Wake Up Santa” at the Georgia Aquarium. He also works with groups that provide Christmas for underprivileged children.
“I love doing those events, seeing the smiles on their faces,” he said. “It’s a treat for them, but it’s a treat for me, too.”
While some people get tired of putting on the heavy suit and greeting kids all day, Wolski particularly enjoys his job because of the connections and exposure to different lifestyles it brings.
“My favorite events are in private residences where they really make you a part of the festivities,” Wolski said. “They bring you in to eat and socialize, and it’s interesting for me to be invited to homes of other cultures and see how they celebrate the holiday.”
No matter the event, however, Wolski admitted some children are afraid of him. But staying in character and playing the part helps them open up to the idea of Santa Claus sometimes.
“Some you can get to give you a high-five, but some are just going to kick and scream,” he said. “But I remember one girl was hiding behind her mother’s skirt, and she had a doll. And toward the end of the event, they came back over to me, and I talked to her doll.
“I convinced her doll to come see me, and the little girl brought her and sat in my lap, and from there it was all good.”
Wolski noted many of the men who play Santa Claus for local venues know each other and have similar experiences during the holidays. He admitted some of his close friends are Santa Clauses.
“I’ve got a few Santas that are good friends,” Wolski said. “There is a whole network of Santas. It’s amazing how many there are to make the holidays happen.”