St. Nicks gather off-season

Facebook group has become a social club

During the Christmas season, Santa fattens up his reindeer and listens to the gift wishes of good little boys and girls.


In the off-season, he meets with a club of other Santas for lunch at Ryan's in North Augusta.

It's not every day that 10 jolly old men dressed in red shirts and sporting gray beards are seen downing platefuls of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans. Denzil Beeson, the group's founder, said he always asks for a back room, so as not to confuse any children. If that happens, though, he's got a backup plan.

"I tell them every year Santa has to meet with his helpers," Beeson said. "If they ask me, 'Who's the real Santa?' I say, 'You decide which one is.' "

Beeson started CSRA Santas a few years ago so he could find other Santas to refer customers to when his schedule got too busy.

What started as a Facebook page to market local Santa's helpers has evolved into a social club. The group meets twice a year for lunch.

"We all just love being Santa. I've been doing it for 15 years," Augusta resident Gene Peavler said. "We come for the fellowship. It's like a fraternity of brothers when we get together."

For two hours, they enjoy conversations they're unlikely to have anywhere else.

There's teasing about who has shaved his beard and talk of how to solve uniquely Santa problems, such as getting a shy child to sit on Santa's lap for a picture or what to say when a neighbor recognizes him and calls out his real name.

The Santas also like to tell stories, lots of stories. Most are about keeping a child believing just one more year.

Augusta resident Ronnie Reddy once paid a visit to his cousin's kids who, at 13, didn't believe in Santa. Dressed in his suit, he went to their house with a bagful of gifts that just happened to be everything they asked for. He almost didn't deliver them when he found nobody was asleep.

Two years later, the children confronted him at a family reunion.

"They said, 'Was that you that came to our house playing Santa?' " Reddy said. "They still weren't sure. Two years later, I saw them again and they said, 'We know that was you playing Santa!' "

Most of the CSRA Santas are old pros, but the club is also a good place for a new Santa to learn the ropes.

Carl Berry, of Evans, began playing Santa last Christmas. He joined the lunch group hoping to find out how long he should grow his beard, or whether he should attend a Santa school, such as Atlanta's International University of Santa Claus. One problem seemed particularly pressing.

"I wonder if there's any such thing out there as a cool Santa suit. Not like cool-looking, but one that won't make you so hot," Berry said. "Last year I was in a building where the temperature was too high. My wife had to get cool rags to put behind my neck."