Bringing Holiday Cheer

December 21, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

After Christmas, Eldersburg's resident Santa doesn't fly back to the North Pole. He stays in south Carroll and returns to his job as a route salesman.

"Last July, a child came up to me while I was delivering bread and said, 'Hi, Santa,' " said Christian T. Hanley.

"They understand when I tell them Santa has a job and has to be a bread man until Christmas."

Most of the year, Mr. Hanley, 54, delivers goods for Schmidt Baking Co. Even in his uniform, with his beard trimmed, the "slightly round, white-haired man" knows he resembles the jolly old elf and loves playing the part, he said.

"Edmond has nothing on me," he said, referring to the actor who starred in "Miracle on 34th Street." "I have a wonderful life, too."

For a dozen Decembers, Mr. Hanley has taken a vacation from route sales while he delivers presents and his own Christmas cheer as Santa -- often to Carroll County's neediest families.

He spends the week before Christmas helping Neighbors in Need, a holiday program that distributes food and gifts to impoverished families.

"I don't take any other [Santa] jobs from the 22nd on; I work with Neighbors in Need then," he said. "About 25 percent of my work is charitable but in the last days before Christmas it's all for charity."

Mr. Hanley can step into his fur-lined boots and crushed velvet suit in an instant.

He is always willing to squeeze a "sick call" into his schedule, which is often booked a year in advance.

"When a hospital or nursing home or parents of a sick child call, I work it into my schedule at no charge," he said.

While all his visits are memorable, the most affecting are talks with terminally ill children, he said.

"They almost always ask to get better," he said. "I tell them Santa can't promise everything, but he will try."

Decked out in full Santa regalia, he gives a lively "ho, ho, ho" and climbs aboard his red and white pickup.

The truck, with "a real used look, makes better driving than a sleigh when there is no snow," he said.

He doesn't do chimneys and, instead of reindeer, he usually arrives with his elf -- Christina Mawhinney, his 27-year-old daughter.

"She got the fever from me," he said. "She will usually play with the children as they wait to see me."

He willingly travels around the Beltway but spends most of his Santa-time in Carroll County near his Berrett home.

Of his three red suits, one is usually at the cleaners during the busy season, a casualty of excited 3-year-olds.

His seasonal avocation began at the suggestion of fellow Santa who needed backup.

"My first job was at a Christmas wedding," he said. "The mother of the bride set it up to surprise her daughter."

She was among the first to sign her name in his "Big Red Book." The book is filled with signatures -- he insists even the smallest visitor must write his name.

His white beard and hair were much darker when he began his Santa-ing.

"At first, it took two hours to whiten my hair and beard, and the stuff used to flake," he said with a laugh. "I looked like Santa with dandruff."

These days, he can touch up his eyebrows, sideburns and mustache in about 20 minutes.

Years ago, he turned in his original red corduroy suit for velvet outfits ordered from the Sears catalog. Every two years, one wears out and he orders another. He said he isn't worried that the catalog is out of business. He knows he will find a suit somewhere.

When the heavy costume gets too hot, the children see Santa working in his red or green shirtsleeves.

He begins to grow his Christmas beard about May, he said. By December, it is long and full.

"Kids love to tug on it," he said. "I yell and jump and it really scares them."

Mr. Hanley prefers private parties and community events and eschews shopping malls.

"I could never keep a tight schedule and push a kid off my lap like mall Santas have to do to keep up with lines," he said.

Although he charges for weddings and private parties -- his fees vary according to the time involved -- Santa Hanley often donates his services to the needy.

"After a couple of years, I got involved with the community and Neighbors in Need," he said.

He gives himself one gift on his last Christmas Eve stop at Final Touch beauty salon in Eldersburg.

"I get groomed for Christmas," he said.

That is present enough for him.

"Santa has everything he needs and just wants everybody to be happy for Christmas," he said. "I wouldn't mind winning the lottery. I could really be Santa then."

After the holiday, he said, he hides awhile before returning to his other job. He plans to become the retired bread man this spring but sees Santa in his future for many more years.

"I always miss Santa when it's all over," he said. "That's why I probably won't ever quit."

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