Rural Santa revels in role Visits: After 25 years, a Taneytown dairy farmer still enjoys suiting up as St. Nick and making stops at private homes, parties, day care centers and nursing homes.

December 24, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

In December, Carl Weant's chores as a dairy farmer take a back seat to his night job and alter ego -- Santa Claus.

Nearly every day during the weeks before Christmas, Weant, 64, suits up and hits the road. With his wife, Grace, at the wheel of the family minivan, Weant roams rural northwest Carroll County spreading his neighborly brand of Christmas cheer to friends, local businesses and complete strangers -- if he's feeling particularly merry.

He revels in his role as the Santa who makes house calls, a tradition that he has kept alive for 25 years.

"I tell you what, it has made me 20 or 25 years younger," Weant says. "I don't want to take away the true meaning of Christmas. It's just to have fun."

Weant started his yearly Santa Claus stint after his father, Lake, showed up at a holiday party one year in full Santa attire to surprise the children.

"It took me a couple of years to get up enough nerve," he says. "I just did it here at the house and a couple of places. Then I broke down and went everywhere."

Weant estimates that he makes about 150 visits every holiday season, including stops at private homes, parties, day care centers and nursing homes. He doesn't accept money for his appearances, although some people insist that he take gas money. This year, he'll probably lose money playing Santa, because he had to hire someone to help with the evening milking of the 88-cow herd at his farm near Taneytown.

"He's just a great Santa. He looks very authentic," says Lori Sewell of Sewell's Christmas Tree Farm in Taneytown, where Weant stops each year to pass out candy canes and fruit to customers searching for the perfect tree.

Good for adults and kids

"You don't hear of that nowadays -- neighbors coming over," says Debbie Brauning, whose house is a stop on Weant's route. "It's a good feeling for adults and kids."

One recent night, assorted pieces of Weant's Santa costume were scattered around the kitchen.

His red suit hung on his granddaughter's playpen, the white gloves and beard -- with luxurious shiny curls -- were on the table.

Grace Weant smears white Halloween makeup over his eyebrows and brushes blush over his cheeks and nose.

She uses bobby pins to attach his beard to his white wig. Weant slips into his outfit. Grace hands him a basket of candy canes and some jingle bells. The transformation is complete.

Grace goes over the schedule, and Santa dashes off into the clear, country night.

"I've got to give most of the credit to Mom [Grace]," Weant says. "She takes the patience to doctor me up."

The first stop is the home of Dale and Debbie Brauning, over the Carroll County line in Littlestown, Pa.

Grace dims the car lights and gives a last-minute reminder: "Now remember, the two younger boys believe."

Weant shakes his bells, and dogs bark.

"Ho, ho, ho. Do we have some boys and girls here?" Weant says as the door opens on Todd, 7, Ben, 11, and George, 12. "We're going around to check on the special boys and girls to see if we should come back on Christmas Eve."

Weant focuses on Todd, the youngest: "What would you like? What grade are you in?"

Silence.

"Tell him," Dale Brauning gently urges. "You have to speak up, guys."

Todd shyly mumbles that he would like a "George of the Jungle" video.

Prepared for anything

As Santa, Weant is prepared for any response, from wide-eyed )) wonder to hysterical sobbing.

"I talked to a little girl the other night," he says. "She was 4 years old and wouldn't stop crying. I couldn't even get her to ring my bells or get close enough to give her a candy cane."

That isn't the case with 2 1/2 -year-old Brooke Mullhausen. When Weant arrives at her home in Littlestown, the tiny youngster calmly opens the door.

"Hi, sweetie, can I come in?" asks Weant.

Within a few minutes, Brooke is perched comfortably on Santa's lap and has put in her request for a Barney doll.

Santa, as envisioned by Weant, isn't just for children. He visits nursing homes and occasionally makes spontaneous stops at restaurants or bars. When he pops in on old friends, adult reserve often gives way to childish impulses.

"You want to see our Christmas tree?" asks 74-year-old Irvin Conover, when Weant shows up on his doorstep on a recent stop. Conover plays the song "Easter Parade" for Weant on his player piano, and the two men chat for a while.

"There's Santa Claus," says 96-year-old Anna Smith, at her home near Gettysburg, Pa., a regular stop on Weant's Christmas rounds.

"You know what, you look younger than you did last year," Weant says.

Earlier this month, Weant appeared for the first time as Santa Claus in a church setting. He took part in a St. Nicholas Festival at Mount Zion Lutheran Church in Frederick.

The Sunday school classes gave him gifts to deliver to nursing homes on his rounds. He attended the church service, which celebrated St. Nicholas, a bishop in the early Christian church and the inspiration for the contemporary Santa Claus.

Mount Zion Pastor John Bromhal said of Weant's visit: "It was a way for people to make a concrete connection between what has become such a secular symbol of the celebration of Christmas and a leader who demonstrated an important Christian principle, that spirit of generosity."

Weant plans to continue his uniquely personal holiday tradition as long as he's having fun.

"I've been in practically all of these houses from time to time over the years," said Weant, returning home after a night of visits.

"I feel like I'm really lucky and really happy."

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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