Take one look at Jim Neville, with his white beard, and you can understand why he moonlights as a Santa Claus impersonator. He’s lived in the small North Texas town of Krum, northwest of Denton, for 30 years. In his day job, Neville sells advertising, but he takes each December off to dress up as Santa.
“[In Krum] they had a centennial celebration and had all sorts of contests. I figured the only thing I could enter would be the beard growing contest. And that’s it. It just came in white, everyone started calling me Santa, and it went downhill from there. … I guess you could say I was discovered. A friend wrote a letter to the ‘Texas Country Reporter,’ and [the reporter] came out and interviewed me and did a segment on me. And then through that, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram came out and did a piece on me and had my picture and everything in the newspaper and that was on the front page for Christmas. And then from that Mrs. Baird’s Bakery found me. And I was their Santa for a number of years. With Baird’s, I got to travel all over the state. I got to visit hospitals, children’s hospitals, schools, nursing homes, boys and girls clubs.
Sometimes it’s fun, other times sad. You learn not to cry. You go to these children’s hospitals, and it’s tough when they want you to go into a room to see a child, and they’ll tell you before you go in, this child’s only got a couple of days to live. Now, how do you go in there and say ‘Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas’? So you just say a prayer and hope for the best. That’s all you can do.
It just blows me away when some of these little kids come up and give me a hug. And the most embarrassing part is when I’m sitting on one side of church and a little kid on the other side of church during Mass hollers out, ‘Santa Claus!’ Then I just want to crawl under a pew! But it’s happened quite often.
I do Santa in July at Cook Children’s Hospital. I get fairly busy in December, but I’m kind of picky about what I do. I do the children’s hospitals, a couple of schools … And I do Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer, things like that.
I don’t make very much money being Santa Claus, but that’s my problem. It’s not about the money. I sell promotional advertising, and I repair and refinish furniture. That’s how I earn a living. It’s been keeping me going, and it allows me to basically be off the month of December where I can go out and play Santa. And that’s pretty cool.
I belong to an organization called the Lone Star Santas. We are a group of maybe 75, 80 Santas in the state of Texas, and I think a couple from Oklahoma. And we get together on occasion and have what we call an Eatin’ Meetin’. It’s kinda neat when 60 or 70 Santas walk into a restaurant, it’s like, put the kids away! And of course everyone wants to prove that they’re Santa. I like to sit back and let kids wonder, ‘Which one is really the one?’ That’s the fun part.
[Santa Claus] is the embodiment of love. He loves everyone, anyone. Race, creed, color, it doesn’t matter. He loves everyone as long as you’re good. That’s it. Santa will come see you if you want him to, and if you’ve been good.
I do own my own [Santa suit], I had it custom made. It’s quite costly. I’m about ready for a new one as soon as Mrs. Claus says I can buy one.
Of course I believe in Santa Claus! What can I say, I know many of them! We come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. But it’s up to you to decide which one is the real one. There’s only one.
I say when I leave, ‘Be good now! One more thing—don’t forget to say your prayers.’ In the schools I can’t say that anymore, so now before I leave I tell all the children, ‘Remember to brush your teeth!’ And I have teachers look at me and say, ‘Thank you!’”