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Santa Serves More Than Gifts, But Faith as Well

By Staff | Dec 2, 2015

Photo by Miles Layton Jesse Griffith, 11, of Sistersville asks Santa Claus, aka Martin Parrish, to pass on the word to the big man up North that he wants video games for Christmas on Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church in Sistersville. Parrish, who has served as Santa for nearly 30 years, said being the Claus is about more than gifts and candy, but offering faith.

Martin Parrish doesn’t just wear a red and white Santa suit, he becomes something more.

“Kids are our lives and the future generation,” said Parrish, 56, of Middlebourne. “There is a lot of love being left out of this world nowadays. Christmas is too commercialized. Since I don’t have much to give but the love in my heart and the love God has given me, this is my way of giving back to the community and all those around me.”

Parrish will be Santa Claus for the annual Christmas parade that starts at 7 p.m. Friday in Sistersville. For nearly 30 years, Parrish has transformed into Santa for various communities throughout West Virginia.

“I do it year after year because I enjoy the kids,” said Parrish, a father of six and grandfather to 12 children. “I love seeing the smiles on their faces and how much joy it brings to their families.”

Perhaps the same as that jolly old man who has been delivering toys to generations of children, Parrish has some stories to tell of his experiences bringing joy to others. Parrish paused a long moment as he recalled a story about his visit to a sick little boy who was staying in the hospital.

“There was a 4-year-old boy who was suffering from cancer,” said Parrish, who had a tear in his eye as he spoke in a strained voice.”They pulled the tubes out of his nose when they set him on my lap. His dad said it was the best Christmas his son had ever had. The boy would die eight days later.”

Parrish said when he learned the boy’s fate, he was grief stricken.

“I went to the boy’s funeral,” he said. “I got to express my condolences to the family. And his death was just a hole in my heart, but I knew that his last Christmas was a good one. The last picture I remember of him was of him smiling. He smiled a big smile as I was leaving.”

But being Santa has some heartwarming moments of mirth too.

“Another story was when an 82-year-old lady knocked her son-in-law off the bed just to get a hug from Santa Claus,” Parrish said.

Then there are non-believers who learn to see the light.

“There was a 9-year-old girl that didn’t believe in Santa Clause,” Parrish said. “How did I convince her? Santa had exactly what she wanted for Christmas a Barbie doll. Nobody knew she wanted that doll. Santa gave her that doll right out his sack. Now that little girl believes.”

Parrish is the third generation in his family to wear the super suit known the world over. His grandfather, Charles Parrish, a Methodist pastor, and his father, Gene, also a pastor, did many tours of duty as Santa. Martin Parrish said one year, he traveled more than 800 miles in Tyler County to visit with at least 475 kids. He goes anywhere he is needed free of charge. Any donations Parrish receives, he uses to buy gifts and candy.

“I may start at Sistersville’s nursing home, then go to Fairmont’s Boys and Girls Club, then to Parkersburg for a Philippino Christmas have sleigh, will travel,” said Parrish, also a Methodist pastor. “Wherever I’m called, if I’m available, I don’t turn it down.”

Being Santa is a way Parrish renews his faith.

“It’s lot a travel. It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “And it’s my way of recharging my batteries in the winter.”

Parrish shared his philosophy on being Santa Claus.

“The heart I think that’s what makes the suit,” he said. “I know one person can’t change the world, but it is a starting spot.”

Parrish said with strive in the Middle East and America as a divided nation, Santa can teach the world a lot today.

“No matter how bad the world gets,” he said, “Santa Claus is love and he will always show there is a better way of doing things even though there are some people who do not understand and want to keep conflict going.”

Faith is a big part of Santa’s power, his longevity.

“A lot of people don’t believe in Santa Claus, but the first Santa Claus was God because he gave us his only begotten son as a Christmas gift,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it. He gave me his son and it is my time that I give back to others in his name. I wish I could touch more lives than I do.”

Parrish said anyone who lives within a 50-mile radius of Tyler County seeking Santa Claus should pick up the phone and he’ll be there. Parrish can be reached at 304-652-4369 or at 304-771-7073.