’Twas the day of Saint Patrick’s, when all thro’ the Smokies,
Many a tourist was stirring, it was often quite hokey
The children were sat on the parkway with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.
350 Santas and their helpers gather every other year in the Smoky Mountains to spread joy and trade tips. The five-day festival draws everyone from the beginning enthusiast to the well-worn veteran.
The trade show floor is hopping. There are vendors selling everything from novelty t-shirts that say “Got Milk & Cookies” to belly padding and elaborate wigs and eyebrows. Workshops are scheduled every day and include topics like “Customs and Clausing in Other Countries,” “Hair and Beard Care” and “Sign Language for Santa.”
The mostly male group is jovial and excited to start the public part of the festival. On Saint Patrick’s Day, when one would expect the parkway to be littered with green, people shout, “Meeeerrrrry Christmas”. The Santas, a couple Mrs. Clauses, and a few elves gather at the base of the National Forest. They chat easily in convention mode, sharing stories. The men, with their silky white beards (the vast majority of which are real) and naturally rosy cheeks, stick out in their respective towns but are happy to be part of this fraternity.
Many of the men are former military members, and they trade jokes about the branches. “You know what Marine stands for, right? Muscles are required, intelligence not essential.” They all chuckle and begin to bust on the next branch. The Santa who will lead the parade in the color guard shared that he has PTSD from the Gulf War and is now a PTSD counselor. Another Santa spoke about his heart transplant and how he likes to give back by clausing.
Most own multiple Santa suits and enjoy speaking about the history and origins of the one they're donning for the day. The Danish Santa is a huge hit with a sculptural piece made of pacifiers hanging from his belt. He explains that children give their pacifiers to Santa in Denmark, when they no longer need them, as a rite of passage.
Most Santas are “on” all the time. Several line up at the entrance to the park and wave to delighted, and occasionally horrified, children. Once the first float pulls out, the Santas snap into action and start handing out gifts and interacting with the kids on the parade route.
Happy Saint Patrick's Day to all, and to all a good night.