The parade’s not over until the red guy waves

The downtown Chicago Thanksgiving parade isn’t over until Jeff Curtis passes by. Curtis, also known as Santa Claus, is on the final float, the one that signals the start of the holiday season.

Curtis, of Bartlett, is the father of two adult sons and the son of a long-time Santa. When his wife Carolyn married into the family, she failed to realize that her wedding ring came with the Mrs. Claus outfit and duties. Santa took a few minutes out of his busy holiday preparations to talk about his job.

How did you get started as Santa?

My dad was Santa for the village of Streamwood and did that for over 40 years, until about 10 years ago when it got to be too much. He had the suit and I had the beard. I have a natural white beard, so it was a natural thing.

What’s it like playing Santa all day long?

It’s an exhausting event. You’re in a Santa suit and you’re all dressed up, but it’s still you inside. You always get,‘My dog Buffy passed away, can you bring him back to life’ or‘My mom and dad are separated, can you put them back together?’ When Santa gets done with that one, he has to turn away and get the tears out of his eyes.

Do kids ever recognize you as Santa during the rest of the year?

Yes. If you’re gonna have a white beard and a red shirt, you’d better be ready for it. It happens shopping at Jewel, like it did this summer, and the kids say,‘What are you doing here?’ I say,‘How do you think I check up on you guys?’

Does being with kids all day ever wear on you?

No, each kid’s so different, they just light you up. They waited all year just to come and talk to you.

What do you wish parents knew before they bring their kids to see you?

Make sure the diaper’s clean.

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