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As magical as the story goes, this St. Nicholas has surprised many children “all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.” He’s also surprised a few co-workers too.
By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shhhh. Don’t blow his cover. This Santa loves to keep the tradition alive - for the sake of the kids and also a few adults.
Donald Snow - aka “Santa Snow” treats his seasonal role as a sort of second career - or maybe even a third. He spent 25 years working for the Carmel Police Department, two years working as a resource officer for Indianapolis Public Schools, and four years as a military police officer, stationed in Turkey.
He moved from Muskegon, Mich. in the 90s and he and his wife, Deborah, raised three children in Indiana - A daughter and two sons. When he became a grandfather, Snow’s daughter planted the idea that he could be a Santa and surprise her children.
“I ordered a Santa suit, snuck into their home and I could see my grandson watching me from the banister. I said, ‘I know there’s a little boy in here and I hope he’s in bed.’ I snuck the presents in and they could hear the bells and see me through the window as I walked away,” said Snow.
Four years ago, he joined IU Health as a pathology lab courier and brought along with him the magic of “Santa Snow.” He became familiar with IU Health when he worked as a police officer and escorted most of the trauma cases to Methodist Hospital.
Faces lit up as “Santa Snow” recently walked the hallways jingling his bells and sounding a loud, “Merry Christmas.”
“You made my day,” said lab assistant Abigail Pelton. She admitted she had to do a double take because she often sees Snow with the long gray beard and soft white hair but the red suit threw her off. The hair and beard are the real deal - nothing fake about them.
Several of his team members posed for photos and medical technologists, Matt Sperling and Mahmoud Ahmed recorded messages for the little ones in their lives.
“I got to have a picture, it’s the only way I can keep my grandkids in line,” joked lab assistant Christine Flowers-Ross. Others, like Lisa Dunkel, also a lab assistant, were happy to have a holiday hug. Santa Snow’s appearance is one of several holiday events at the IU Health Pathology Lab. Team members also participate in a toy drive organized by IU Health Bloomington Courier Department; and they celebrate “Spirit Week” in December with days themed as “character day,” “ugly sweater day,” and “long winter’s nap day.”
When Santa Snow’s not entertaining co-workers or family members, he is working the holiday circuit at parties, churches and other events.
“I don’t advertise. It’s by word-of-mouth. I belong to a couple Santa groups on social media and sometimes if someone gets sick, I’ll fill in,” said Snow. He also explained a few unwritten rules of the gig: “I don’t step on other Santa toes. If someone is already working a mall or other local place, I stay clear.” Snow’s motive is to make people smile, but he said there are some Santas who rely on the work to carry them through the year. A qualified Santa can earn anywhere from $10-30,000 in the month of December, he said. And what some people may not know is that the quality of Santa is all about dressing the part. One tailor-made suit can cost upwards of $1,000. A set of six pure brass nickel-plated bells can set Santa back $100 and then there’s the boots. In Snow’s case his size requires a custom-made boot - something he began purchasing when he was a police motorcycle officer.
He says it’s all worth it when he gets to witness pure joy on the faces of others.
On one recent appearance, a gentleman recruited Santa Snow to help with a marriage proposal. The couple took a carriage ride in downtown Noblesville and afterward, Snow told the intended bride that he brought her some “blue ice from the North Pole.” He then pulled an engagement ring from his pocket. On the same night a mother took her two young sons on a carriage ride and they talked non-stop about wanting a puppy for Christmas. Santa Snow gave them a couple of stuffed animals and said he’d see how they did caring for the plush toys. At the end of the ride, the boys were surprised with a Dalmatian puppy.
“A lot of what I do is give attention and talk to the kids. With the older kids who don’t want to pose for a picture, I give them ‘kudo points’ telling them that the photo is a sort of investment, a favor for their parents, a keepsake.”
As a former police officer, Snow said he’s very aware of sizing up the children - being sensitive to who might be afraid or anxious. “I usually have them sit on a chair next to me or where they are most comfortable,” he said.
He often invites his young admirers to touch his beard so they know it is real. “That usually sparks a conversation about their favorite color. I tell them my favorite colors are red, white and green. Even though there is magic in Santa, I’m a Christian and white to me means the purity of a child’s heart like snow on Christmas morning; red is for Jesus who died for us; and green is for the pine tree seeds and rebirth for a new year.”
So what is the biggest debate for this Santa: What are Santa’s favorite cookies?
“I like all cookies but it’s funny how many people ask what is the favorite. For me, it’s not about the cookies; it’s not about the money. It’s about the look on kids’ faces,” said Snow. “I walk into a room and I see them making eye contact and their wheels start turning. The next thing I know, I’m getting a great big hug around the legs.”