Doug Kessey just completed his third year portraying Santa for the city of Acworth.
As Santa, Kessey has heard wishes that surprised him, some that made him laugh, and requests that tugged at his heart.
Kessey is a professional real-bearded Santa, and one of the most popular Santas in north Georgia. He is booked throughout the holiday season, and especially enjoys visits to Acworth.
“I probably do 30 to 40 events each year, and Acworth is one of my favorites,” said Kessey, who lives in Canton and is known as Santa Doug. “I enjoy how excited the kids and families are to see Santa, and it is neat to see the same faces and remember them from the year before. It’s just a great place to be, and the people with the city are phenomenal, and a joy to work with.”
Santa’s arrival in early December is part of Christmas in Acworth festivities downtown. This year, Mayor Tommy Allegood read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to children gathered in front of City Hall, and then asked them to ring bells to summon Santa.
Santa appeared atop City Hall and then spent several hours out front listening to wishes. There were the usual requests for toys, and some surprises.
“I hear a lot of requests for Legos and Hoverboards and phones and iPads, Pokemon items, Shopkins and Hatchimals,” said Kessey. “But, some kids surprise me when they say they don’t need anything. They’ll say, ‘I am happy and thankful.’
“When you get a kid like that, you are kind of taken aback,” said Kessey. “Some kids are very generous and compassionate.”
Kessey’s own children are grown. He started portraying Santa at the encouragement of two good friends who also portray Santa.
“I always have loved kids, and portraying Santa sounded like a lot of fun. But it was something I was thinking about doing later in life, after I retired from my primary job,” said Kessey, 53, who operates a video production company that produces fundraising videos for nonprofit organizations all over the world. “Then, a friend said, why wait. I started letting my beard grow, and said, if it was long enough by Christmastime, I would do it. That was 2015, and I have been loving it since. It is a lot of fun and a real blessing to be able to bring people joy at Christmas.”
Kessey portrays Santa at businesses, churches, fundraisers, homeowner association parties, hospitals, nursing homes, schools and parades. He does private home visits, photos with pets and gift deliveries.
During a recent customer appreciation party for an investment firm, a senior adult requested a Dodge Viper.
While visiting a nursing home, Kessey met a woman who was visiting her husband. “She told me all she wanted for Christmas was to take her husband home. Apparently, he had some physical challenges; she did not say what they were. All you can do at that moment is say you understand, and let them know you care and give them a hug.”
Meeting with kids can require creativity.
“Kids sometimes will ask for a horse, and one girl asked for a pig. In those cases, I say, ‘Santa is mostly a toymaker. I will have to talk with mom and dad about live animals.’”
In downtown Acworth, a girl who was probably 9 or 10 told Santa she didn’t want anything, “but for all the boys and girls who are sick to get well for Christmas.”
One of the most heart-wrenching requests came the first year Kessey visited Acworth.
“A little boy, whose mom was standing behind him, told me he wanted his mom and dad to get back together again. I wasn’t sure what to say, but I held him tight with my arm to convey that I felt his pain. I looked him straight in the eyes and said, ‘I know, and I know that hurts a lot, and I am really sorry.’ I said, ‘Santa loves you, and God loves you, and it is going to be OK.’
“He sat down beside me and I gave him a big hug” said Kessey.
“Santa can’t fix everything, and I am not going to promise that. But I was there to tell him that I understood and loved him, and that things would be OK. Maybe not now, but they would be.”
By Carla Caldwell, Around Acworth editor.