The Spirit of Christmas Lives On!

Editor’s note: We watched anxiously for news of the recent gathering in Albion, New York to honor the work, life and portrayal of Santa Claus by Charles W. Howard. A fortunate few of the Santa community were able to attend and to participate in the Santa Claus Oath. While we interviewed and spoke with some individuals who were there we felt this inspired report from Santa Dutch Schrap far outshined any report we could put together from a distance. We highly admire and applaud the work of Phil Wenz and others who contributed to this event and thank all those in the Santa community who work so hard to uphold the ideals and integrity of the character of Santa Claus.

The feeling and magic of Christmas came into the small town of Albion, New York this past weekend. The very first official “Charles W. Howard Day” in Albion, New York on September 25, 2010 was perfect in every way. Coming into town that morning, signs saying, “Here Comes Santa!” and store fronts decorated for the holidays, combined with the first signs of a windy and chilly crisp air gave no doubt that the Christmas Spirit was there!

Starting off at 9AM, the festivities opened with a flawless singing of the National Anthem and God Bless America as the crowd swelled to hundreds. Several dignitaries from the Town of Albion, Orleans County, and the New York State Governor’s office were on hand to proclaim September 25th as “Charles W. Howard Day.” The Official Santa Claus of the event arrived and led a line dance with fellow portrayers from around the country. The Family of Charles W. Howard was in strong attendance and Jane Holland; Grand-Daughter even took part in the Santa line dance! After pictures and fellowship, a procession of Santa’s and spectators wound their way around the Courthouse Square lawns and over to the First United Methodist Church for the rest of the ceremonies.

Charles W. Howard was a member of the First United Methodist Church where he was honored and remembered on Saturday morning – not only as Santa Claus – but as a Father, Grandfather, Teacher, Businessman, and Entrepreneur of the Community. During the ceremony, several presentations were shown telling the story of Howard, tokens from Santa Claus, Indiana were presented to the family, and everyone learned that Howard made a replica of Niagara Falls out of apple juice! During several parts of the presentations, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The Family was overcome with emotion as Christmas home videos were played showing Charles rocking in a rocking chair on Christmas morning with his Family all around him.

If Charles W. Howard was alive today, he would have absolutely approved of the way the ceremony ended at the church. The entire audience, including Santa’s and Howard’s Family and Friends recited the Santa Claus Oath written by Philip L. Wenz, the great Santa from Illinois. As of this day, there are over 3,000 signatures on the Santa Claus Oath! “I promise to use ‘my’ powers to create happiness, spread love and make fantasies come to life in the true and sincere tradition of the Santa Claus Legend,” reads one line of the Oath that I believe sums up Charles W. Howard’s life. He brought happiness to the world, even at one of the Nation’s worst times after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Just a few days after that tragedy, he brought Christmas into the country by appearing as Santa Claus in the Macy’s Parade as flags were held by every person along that parade route. Howard spread love through his community and shared it with other men from other areas of the country – so they also could spread the love – as he instructed them in every little detail on how to be a perfect Santa Claus. And finally, Howard brought the traditions of the Santa Claus Legend to life and passed on that knowledge to generations of Santa’s everywhere – including myself.

Leaving the church, I couldn’t help but hear Santa’s and Elves signing, “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Ho, Ho, Ho’ing” in a large group on the steps of the church. The ceremony had every single person in the Christmas Spirit. Charles W. Howard was also there on Saturday in Spirit, I have no doubt.

Countless stories of sitting on Howard’s lap, the Santa Claus School, and Christmas Park were heard throughout the day from every walk of life around Albion. Charles W. Howard touched everyone.

We also visited the site of the Original Santa Claus School and Christmas Park. Standing on the exact spot where Howard instructed men in front of the famous fireplace, moved me. As we walked around the property, you couldn’t help but notice that there were several deer tracks and a few new evergreens recently planted on the site behind where the old barn stood. The Spirit of Christmas is very alive there as well.

The Schoolhouse Bed and Breakfast, a block away from the Erie Canal, was also a stop of ours on Saturday. Known for the day as, “North Pole Central” the Bed & Breakfast featured the Santa Claus Oath exhibit where attendees could sign the Oath. It also featured Harold Hudson’s Miniature Midway Exposition, gifts, art, Santa Claus School and Christmas Park memorabilia and baked goods.

A very special thank you must go out to Phillip L Wenz who organized and founded this event. Without his knowledge and dedication to the Family of Charles W. Howard, the Family of Jim Yellig, the Legend of Santa Claus, his commitment to preserve our Santa Claus History, his friendship with other Santa portrayers, and most importantly, our Santa Claus Oath, I know many of us Santa’s would not be the Santa’s that we are today. Phil Wenz has brought all the smallest and largest of pieces together for each of us. Phil is truly the keystone of our Santa world today. At 47 years old, Phil’s Santa career already is at a legendary level and he is without a doubt of one of the all time greats bar none and he is the current keeper of the Santa knowledge just as Howard was before him.

I watched as the Grand-Children talked with Phil. He is one of the family and they see him as a living extension of their Grandpa. One of the most poignant moments of this celebration is one that very few saw. We had just finished the set up in the Methodist Church and the production group was heading over to the Courthouse for the opening festivities. I asked DeAnn where Phil was and she said he would be over in a minute. I looked back at the church and decided to go back in to get him. As I walked in the sanctuary I saw Phil standing silently before the four pictures of Charles W. Howard that were illuminated by the twinkle lights and candles. He just stood there motionless in the peacefulness of the church. I watched for a few seconds and left knowing I saw something special.

Wrapping up the day, I made a stop to a large cemetery to the east of town, Mt. Albion Cemetery – the final resting place of Charles W. Howard. The grave site for the family sits on the top of a small hill, probably one of the quietest places in the entire cemetery. The small headstone mentions nothing of Santa Claus – it just says, “Charles W. Howard, 1896-1966,” I believe, that’s how Howard would have wanted it. Santa didn’t pass away, Howard did – but he passed on the Legend of Santa to each and every one of us – and that Santa Spirit lives on today. It hit me pretty hard while standing there, Howard didn’t want to be known as Santa, as nobody should be, he wanted to be known as Charles W. Howard, period.

~Dutch Schrap, a Traditional Santa Claus Portrayer from East Coventry, Pennsylvania.

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