Between his big black hair, matching beard, and preference for traveling around the Okanagan on his Harley Davidson, most people wouldn’t have considered Tom Kliner the perfect replacement for the jolly man in a big red suit.
He wasn’t even sure it made sense more than 20 years ago when he first responded to a job posting looking for a replacement Santa Claus at a Kelowna mall. .
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But he donned a pair of boots worthy of Kris Kringle and never looked back. He is now better known as Santa Tom.
“It took me six to seven years to realize that I looked like Santa Claus,” he said on Friday, the day before his busiest night of the year, Christmas Eve.
It’s a job he took seriously from day one: learning how to bleach dark hair, don bespoke Santa suits that only a real curmudgeon would question, and perfect conversation starters for the elderly. from 1 to 100 years in a warm conversation.
In the years that have passed, these things have made Kilner a shoo-in for many prominent Christmas events in Kelowna and why this week he received an honor from an organization that “celebrates, studies and preserves historical documentation of the many men and women who contributed greatly to the Legend of Santa Claus.
Kliner has been inducted into the International Santa Hall of Fame, a community of thousands of professional Santas, Mrs. Clauses and Helpers around the world.
It’s an honor he’s proud of in part because he recognizes all the work he’s done to uplift those who spread holiday cheer while being a Santa Claus.
Kilner is the founder of an organization called Santas Across the Globe and the International Brotherhood of Bearded Real Santas. Over the years, Kliner has brought together many Santas, Mrs. Clauses, Elves, and others in the Christmas industry and helped mentor newcomers in the secrets of the North Pole.
Doing the job professionally is something Kliner has always been proud of and he said most others who take on the role are just as passionate.
He is also proud of the relationships he has built over the years.
“There are a lot of kids I’ve seen year after year,” he said.
“I will recognize them while I am away and I know their names. A guy I used to work as Santa for year after year and his kids are growing up.
He said some kids tend to play the game even as their belief in St. Nick becomes more complicated, but one of those boys was borderline rolling his eyes at Kliner.
“I started talking to him and asked him what he was doing and he said, ‘I like magic’.”
That’s when Kliner knew he had it.
He asked if he was going to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, whom Kilner knew had a love for magic, and if he enjoyed the magic set he had received the previous year.
At that moment, he said, the boy’s eyes widened and his faith in all the joy of the season was restored.
Moments like these stay with him, and he had plenty of them.
“Some of those kids are now coming back to him with their own kids,” he said.
“There’s nothing like seeing the world through the eyes of a child. Everything is new, the world is a good place, and that sums up (the work). They arrive and their eyes are full of wonder. It’s good.”
He’s been asked many times over the years when he’s going to give up the suit and quit his job. And to each he replies: “When I can’t take it anymore.”
Saturday is the last day of Kliner’s Santa season, and when he’s done, he’ll put his feet up and enjoy all the holidays have to offer.
Maybe also make some plans for the coming year. If you see it released between now and next Christmas, remember that part of the magic of the season is in the mystery. So it can slip away to help toddlers suspend disbelief a little longer.
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