By Valerie Baldowski
Santa Claus is coming to Hampton.
Since 2007, Steve Williams has delighted local residents, young and old, with his Christmas-season appearances as the well known, jolly old elf.
"I've always loved children, and I've enjoyed doing things with kids," said Williams, a 58-year-old retiree. "My daughter and my wife kept saying 'now that you're retired, you need to play Santa.'"
After two years of portraying Santa and seeing thousands of children, the Hampton resident has a number of poignant memories to share.
One involves a visit to a local elementary school, when a child using a walker came to see him. "What she wanted for Christmas was to be able to walk," said Williams. "It's hard to respond to questions like that and not cry. It just tore my heart out. I explained to her that some things Santa couldn't do. Santa's a toy maker, and so I explained to her that when she said her prayers that night she'd ask God to help her."
Williams' initial decision to play the role involved enlisting the help of his wife, Debbie, to color his blonde hair to match Santa's.
Debbie Williams said that although playing Santa was a natural for her husband, she did not know what to expect in playing Mrs. Claus.
"I never dreamed it was going to entail as much work on my part," she said. "I'm the hairdresser. Not only do I take care of my own hair, now I have to take care of his."
She said she was not surprised at initially learning of his intentions to play Santa Claus.
"Our kids have always thought that their dad should be Santa, because that's just his personality," Debbie Williams said. "That is who he is, and not much of that is something he's had to learn. It's been his personality the entire time I've known him. It doesn't take much to make him smile."
Steve and Debbie Williams, who have been married 37 years, have three adult children and eight grandchildren, ranging in age from 2 to 15 years old.
Steve Williams said he learned early on that playing St. Nick is not cheap. Buying a Santa suit from a costume company, dry cleaning it periodically, paying his own travel expenses, buying gifts, and giving out candy canes wherever he goes gets pricey, he said.
"The first year I went to a couple of places, and it was all for free," said Steve Williams. "I found out right quick it's expensive being Santa."
Last year was the first year he began charging, and he said he just broke even. But setting the cost aside, he said, the holiday visits are enjoyable for him.
Steve Williams, in the role of Santa, will be greeting children and adults during Saturday morning's "Breakfast with Santa" event at McDonough First United Methodist Church, but he also has a full schedule of other appearances lined up.
Thursday, he will be at Rocky Creek Elementary School in Hampton, and Friday, he will be at Moye's Pharmacy on the McDonough Square. Saturday afternoon he will be at the Lake Talmadge Community Center, and Saturday evening he will be at a private party. He said he has another private party booked on Sunday, followed by a Sunday afternoon appearance at a Locust Grove church.
Steve Williams said he is a member of a union called the Brotherhood of Direct Descendants of Santa. He said he also attended Santa Academy, a school held several times a year in Atlanta and Lawrenceville, and registered with SantaAtlanta.com, a web site billed as being set up for real-bearded Santas.
He said his favorite part of playing Santa is seeing the joy on the faces of children and adults when he walks into a room in full costume.
"I can walk into the hallway of a school, and teachers are looking kind of harried because of all the kids," he said. "As soon as the kids see me, they brighten up and everybody smiles. It's just the magic of it. I get a lot of pleasure from trying to make a few minutes of happiness for everybody."