The Glenn Unzicker Story
published by "The Star", 2003
It all started a few years ago when Glenn Unzicker was traveling
with his family. He'd always had a big, white beard, but still
couldn't understand why the lady in the hotel they were staying
at asked him if he wanted to play Santa for the hotel during his
stay. Ultimately, he declined her request.
"I was a little offended at first," Unzicker admitted. "But it
stayed with me long after the trip. Then I thought, 'why not?'
Maybe I could bring a little joy to a child. And really
Christmas is for more than children. And to bring a smile to
someone's face - it makes me feel pretty good."
Three years ago, Unzicker and his family were visiting an aunt
in Illinois. She wanted to get something so Unzicker said he
took her to a store. "It was two days before Christmas and
sitting on this shelf was a Santa suit for half off," he
explained. "Usually those suits can range anywhere from
$200-$1,000, so I debated. Then I figured, if I don't buy it
when it's half-off, when am I going to do it?" So Unzicker
purchased the outfit and brought it back to his aunt's house to
try it on. It was a perfect fit - once pillows were used to
stuff the tummy.
Unzicker said the cherry red Santa suit has a lot of power,
"especially during sad times and serious situations. You become
this icon of sorts," he added. With power comes responsibility.
"I talked to a child and she had lost her dog. All she wanted
was her dog back, and you kind of don't know what to say. So
what you kind of have to do is give them hope without making any
promises," said Unzicker. "I told her I'd be out all over the
place at Christmas and I would keep my eye out for her dog.
Chances are it won't happen (that the child's dog will come
back) but you leave them with a little better feeling."
During another incident, Unzicker said he found an elderly woman
sitting on a bench in a hallway at the business he was playing
Santa at. "She was looking kind of dejected," said Unzicker. "I
asked her if she was OK, and she said she was, that she just
couldn't take all the walking and that she was in town visiting
her daughter." The woman went on to tell Unzicker that her dog
had recently died and so had her husband. This was going to be
the first Christmas she was spending without them.
"People tell me the things they wouldn't tell me if I didn't
have this Santa suit on," he said. "It's almost like I'm a
priest in a confessional. Sometimes, people are expecting a
Some funny things have come out of Unzicker's playing the Santa
role. One evening the phone rang, and when he answered it, a
little voice came over the phone: "Are you Santa's helper?"
Confused for a moment, Unzicker almost hung up on the child,
thinking it was a prank. But after taking a few minutes to
figure things out, Unzicker learned the youth got his phone
number from the daycare or preschool he was attending. After he
got over the silence, Unzicker said he was, in fact, Santa's
helper. He listened to the boy, who told him he hadn't received
any detentions this year and that he wanted a Magic 8-Ball.
Another time Unzicker was traveling in his car on the way home
from a Santa sighting, when kids in a mini van began waving at
him excitedly. Unzicker pulled his car into Stop 'n Go, where
the family also stopped to visit with Santa.
Unzicker tries to let the customer dictate what
the visit will entail
"A lot of different things have happened," said Unzicker. "the
trick is not to try to play the character of Santa, but to be
yourself in the suit."
One day while driving, the surprise was on Santa himself. "I was
driving out in the east coast - I was out on the Pennsylvania
turnpike," said Unzicker. "It was around the holidays and while
I was driving, I turned my head to the driver in the car next to
me. She was dressed up like Mrs. Claus and waving at me,"
recalled Unzicker, laughing.
Besides making appearances at business gatherings, holiday
parties, personal appearances and a few charitable gigs,
Unzicker said he tries to let the customer dictate what the
visit will entail. He's even delivered gifts.
"I figure I'm doing a service," said Unzicker. "It's a pleasure
to provide joy. The season is limited - but I've had a lot of
neat experiences." Some of those experiences come from
caught-in-the-moment ad-libbing and the funny things kids
Unzicker said some of the most commonly asked questions from
kids are, "What's the North Pole like," "How many elves do you
have," and even "How do you get the toys to everyone?"
"Mostly they just tell you what they want, but the more curious
ones want to know things," said Unzicker, laughing. Unzicker
said he prepares by knowing exactly what the new toys are, what
the popular toys are and any gift trends.
"One woman was so surprised I knew the name of the doll her
daughter wanted, I thought she was going to fall out of her
chair," said Unzicker.
Turn non-believers in believers
Santa School (yes, Santa School) also helped with playing the
part. At Santa-School, would-be Santas learn the tricks of the
trade; and the most important knowledge of all: How to be
believable. Santa hopefuls learn everything from how to take a
good picture to details of a Santa costume, wigs and even
"They talk to you about challenges with children," said Unzicker.
"And things to pay attention to. Like if a child conveys signs
they aren't being treated right, then that's something we'd want
to report. It's about how to deal with situations like that," he
Fortunately, Unzicker said he hasn't come across anything like
child abuse. He has, however, turned some non-believers into
believers. "It was a Saturday after Thanksgiving and this woman
comes up to me. She pointed out a woman with two children, and
said she overheard that the one child was having difficulty
reading. "Apparently the child's teacher had said she was going
to e-mail Santa if the child didn't try to improve." Armed with
that knowledge, Santa confronted the child with, "So, I hear
you've been having trouble reading?" "The look on the mother's
face was absolutely priceless," said Unzicker. "After that she
couldn't stop talking about it, wondering how I knew. It helps
to have elves out in the field."
Unzicker said he enjoys playing the world's most well-known
figure. "It's really a lot of fun playing that position," he
said. "You can take something - some moment - and make a memory
for someone. People want to believe," he added. "And they will
Sun Prairie, December 25, 2003
The original headline of this article was "Santa 4 Hire" ,
new headlines have been added and some paragraph breaks
have been removed for easier online reading.