Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus, and his name is Bob.
Robert Aittama ’73 first set his sights on being Santa Claus for a pretty Grinch-y reason.
“I started out in a greedy way,” he confesses. Aittama was casting about for a decent stream of retirement income, and playing Santa seemed like a good deal: not only did he look the part, he found he could make a sizable sum in six weeks, “about ten times more than I’d get as a Walmart greeter,” he says.
So he enrolled in the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, in Midland, and learned the secrets of impersonating that jolly old elf. Armed with good training, a fluffy white beard, and rosy cheeks that just scream “ho ho ho,” he went to work.
That’s when he began to realize that being Santa Claus is more than a lucrative part-time job. Wherever he went, the Christmas spirit followed. “I walk around spreading joy. I soon learned that being Santa isn’t about me, it’s about the kids.”
Of course, some moments have been more heart-warming than others.
“One little girl got on my lap and said she wanted a 64-gig iPad,” Aittama remembers. “I asked if 32 gigs would do, and she said no, 32 gigs wasn’t powerful enough. I asked how old she was, and she said five.” Well.
More often, he feels blessed, especially during visits to children’s hospitals, cancer wards, and nursing homes, which he does for free. For some, a visit from Santa is all the Christmas they have.
“I went to a home for severely disabled children and asked where their families were,” Aittama remembers. “The staff said, ‘What families?’ No one ever came to visit them.”
Then there was the three-year-old who leapt into his lap in a restaurant shouting “Santa! Santa!” when he wasn’t even in scarlet regalia. And the little girl who asked only that her sick friend be cured.
Moments like these have caused Aittama’s heart to grow three sizes since he first toyed with the idea of playing St. Nick.
“Being Santa is a sacred trust,” he says. “If people carried Santa in their heart, it would be a wonderful world: peace, joy, love, happiness, forgiveness. Why can’t we be that way all year long?”
Editor’s note: Robert Aittama is Santa Bob in New Home, Pennsylvania, where he also works as an aeronautical engineer for Lockheed Martin. You can visit his website at www.santa-beclaus-i-care.com.