Here Comes Santa Claus
For more than 30 years Martin Parish, school bus driver for Tyler County Schools, has listened to wish lists and spread holiday cheer throughout Sistersville and surrounding communities as he portrays Santa Claus.
Although this year has definitely been different with the pandemic, Santa was able to pay a visit to Sistersville this past weekend. He, and three of his favorite elves, Donald Shields, Skylar Shields, and Stryder Shields, (Grand kids) traded in the reindeer for a ride on the new fire truck throughout downtown and neighborhoods visiting as many kids as he could from a safe distance. Following the ride on the fire truck, Santa set up a socially distanced shop in the gazebo behind Banker’s Corner. Several kids stopped by to give Santa their wish lists. The rain slowed the number of kids attending but those that did show up were very excited to see him.
With Santa away from the North Pole and in town, it gave me the chance to spend some time with him, and find out how he is able to do so many things for the community and surrounding areas of Sistersville prior to his regular trip on Christmas Eve.
Santa told a story of one busy year he traveled more than 800 miles and visited over 475 kids and their families fulfilling party engagements, parades, community celebrations and, most important, families that have limited opportunities to see him. Any donations given to Santa are used to buy treats for the kids he visits and gifts for underprivileged children.
Santa’s very first visit 34 years ago was for the Methodist Church in Paden City to a Police Officer’s home and his four children. Since that beginning he has traveled on a yearly basis to Parkersburg, Wheeling, Morgantown, and other area cities and rural communities.
I asked Santa why he does what he does. He said, “I love to see the smiles on the kid’s faces! There are a lot of families that might not get to see Santa so I try hard to reach those families every year.” This has been a hard year for Santa Claus due to COVID-19.
During the season he typically visits between 20 and 30 families and numerous communities, but this year he has been limited to only 4 visits.
Santa told me one special story about a very grown up nine year old girl that was no longer a believer until she whispered in his ear that she wanted a Barbie doll for Christmas. No one in her family was aware that is what she wanted. You can’t imagine the joy on her face when Santa reached in his bag of toys, pulled out the requested doll and handed it to her. Not only did she know in her heart this was the real Santa, she could hardly wait to share the story with her amazed family and friends.
Terry Wiley, owner of Banker’s Corner and member of the Sistersville Service Organization who sponsors Santa’s visit in Sistersville each year, had this to say about Santa. “Martin is a compassionate human who magically transforms from kindly school bus driver into everyone’s image of Santa. His believable character evokes memories of our own as we awaited our turn to produce a list of presents we expected to find under our tree…and for all I know, Martin may be the REAL Santa!”
As we were winding down our conversation, Santa showed he has a sense of humor and enjoys those belly laughs for which he is quit famous. He asked me the following question, “Why does Santa plant so many gardens every year? Because he likes to HO,HO, HO!”
The last thing Santa wanted me to assure all kids was this: COVID or no COVID he will be out on Christmas Eve delivering gifts throughout the world. It’s a job that allows him to connect with all children and bring joy to families. Something everyone needs especially this year.