The excitement on the faces of hundreds of boys and girls watching the Black Mountain Christmas Parade Dec. 2 was palpable. With Christmas mere weeks away, the children were anxious to get a look at the man would be delivering their presents.
Waving to giddy onlookers, Santa Claus slowly made his way west on his sleigh before turning onto Cragmont Road with the rest of the parade participants. But where did St. Nick go from there?
Not the North Pole, as most would assume. It turns out Santa has a second home here in Black Mountain.
The holiday season is undoubtedly the busiest time of the year for Santa, who took a break from his Christmas preparations Dec. 13 to talk at Dynamite Roasting Co., just blocks from his house.
His arrival at the coffee house was inconspicuous. Dressed in civilian clothes, he ordered a coffee and sat down. His red military-style cap with a bejeweled pin that read “Believe” covered his white hair.
“It was wonderful to be a part of the parade,” Santa, who looks a lot like Black Mountain resident Sam Hobson, said. “To see children, many seeing Santa for the first time, looking up in awe is a special feeling.”
Santa sightings in the Swannanoa Valley have been common recently. The holiday season may be the "most wonderful time of the year," but it's busy for the big guy. Not long ago during the town's Holly Jolly celebration, he was at the Old Depot on Sutton Street talking to dozens of children.
“That line was long, and it didn’t go down the whole night,” Santa, who was looking more and more like Sam Hobson, said. “I didn’t want to take any breaks because there were a lot of kids waiting to see and talk to Santa.”
Santa Claus has a huge precedent in history. His story can be traced back to Saint Nicholas of Myra, a bishop in the Greek Christian Church in the 4th century. St. Nick, as he would become known over time, gave gifts to the poor. His traditional red garments were those worn by bishops in the church.
Father Christmas in 16th century England and Sinterklaas of Dutch and Belgian folklore would mesh with St. Nick to become the modern Santa Claus, first introduced to in the U.S. in 1821, according to Santa (or maybe Sam Hobson, hard to tell) himself. In the 1930s, a marketing campaign by Coca-Cola Co. gave us the Santa we recognize today.
But “all cultures have their own versions,” Santa said, enjoying his coffee.
Hobson and his distinctive beard moved to the Valley several years ago with wife Linda, following a 40-year career as a pastor. A kind and giving sort, Hobson and his whiskers have taken classes at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, the world's oldest school of its kind. Students at the school get vocal training, dance lessons, makeup tips - and cookies. The attention to detail creates an experience that feels authentically Santa Claus.
Santa, relishing the coffee at Dynamite, said he knows Hobson and that Hobson went to Santa school in hopes of rekindling his Christmas spirit. "(He's) really doing it to make people happy, particularly during a season where depression can be so common," Santa said. "Spreading the Christmas spirit can make a big difference in the life of others."
Santa, who favors Sam Hobson to a remarkable degree, has been busy in recent weeks, he said. He made video calls to excited families, eaten breakfast at the Fairview Community Center and appeared at the Westville Pub in West Asheville.
"Let me tell you, that was so fun," he said. "They have a day where they have Santa there for the community to come and visit. I got to talk to children, and plenty of adults wanted pictures taken with me as well."
Just after the interview, he'd be telling stories and performing magic tricks in Montreat's Upper Anderson Auditorium.
He said he was heading soon to South Hill, Virginia to read to children at a FAO Schwarz workshop while their parents shopped. "It's going to be fun," he said, as has been responding to letters on his website (santasclaus.net) and his Facebook page (Santa S. Claus).
Needing at least an hour to change into his Santa clothes, the jolly man took his leave from Dynamite. On his way out, he remarked on how people get him and Sam Hobson mixed up all the time. That's not so strange, given that Hobson, a retired minister, and Santa, a busy guy, both have made careers out of spreading cheer.
Both are "still helping people, just in a very different way," he noted before hopping in his pickup truck and heading west on Old 70.