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The holiday season is a busy time of year. There are family dinners and company parties to attend, trees to trim and lists of gifts to buy.

The time leading up to Christmas is exponentially busier when you’re Santa Claus.

The Monte Vista Hotel on Dec. 5 was just one stop in a whirlwind of bookings for Ron Holshouser, who has been Santa for over 30 years.

“I really get into it,” said Holshouser, who at the historic Black Mountain hotel listened to around 40 little girls and boys tell him what they want for Christmas. “My favorite thing about being Santa is making the children happy.”

Seeing the faces of children light up was exactly what charmed the China Grove resident into a career as the jolly bringer of gifts.

“When I first started being Santa I owned a restaurant and bar in Mississippi,” he said. “I partnered with Budweiser to do a Clydesdale Christmas Store, and we asked around 1,080 kids what they wanted for Christmas. We tried to make sure they got the top three things on their lists.”

The experience was an emotional one for Holshouser, who said it made him realize how much of an impact seeing Santa can have on children. So he dedicated a large portion of his time to spreading that joy.

“Through most of the year I feel like I have to act like Santa,” he said. “It’s really part of my identity that I carry all year-round.”

The trademark beard that Holshouser shares in common with his jolly counterpart is just one way in which the two identities are connected well after the holiday season.

“I have a natural beard, and I don’t have to do anything to make it gray. That’s natural too,” he said. “Right after New Year's I shave it down to about an inch long and start the process of growing it back again. By around June it’s long enough where my barber can start grooming it and making it round and soft like I like it.”

Growing out his whiskers is merely one aspect of what Holshouser does to prepare for his annual transformation. Around October he begins turning his attention to dressing for the part.

“I have three Santa suits, and every year before the season starts I have to have each of them cleaned and ready to go,” he said. “And every couple of years I’ll have to have a new one made. I have a seamstress that makes them for me.”

There is no real off-time for Holshouser, who said his wife Tami handles bookings for him year-round. But his busiest time of the year kicks off with an appearance in character in the South Rowan Christmas Parade in China Grove.

“That first day when I do the parade, the kids are beaming and yelling at me what they want for Christmas,” he said. “It makes me feel good, it really does.”

Holshouser has gained notoriety in his hometown over the years, having been the first Santa that many kids have known. That includes McKenzie Faggart, 2016 Miss North Carolina.

“I’ve known her since she was a kid,” Holshouser said. “I’ve been her Santa since she was really little.”

Even Holshouser’s grandchildren know him as Santa.

“They think I’m the real Santa and all these Santas they see work for me," he said. "Every time they’re at my house they come up and whisper things they want for Christmas.”

While lore suggests that Santa heads back to the North Pole when his work is completed, Houlshouser’s post-holiday ritual is quite different.

He and wife go to the beach as soon as Christmas is over. They spend a week and relax. At some point, he gets his beard cut down. Two years ago right after Christmas he took his Santa suit to the beach for an informal photo shoot. The sight of him decked out drew more attention than he anticipated.

“You could see some kids yelling from the balconies on the condos across the way,” he said. “Probably within 10 minutes we had 300 kids out there on the beach.”

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