The day that children around the world have been waiting for is almost here. Their thoughts are of Santa Claus loading his sleigh with toys and probably a few other things, and hitching up the reindeer for a long Christmas Eve ride to their houses.

The day that adults have been waiting for when they can enjoy their children opening their gifts, having a good meal and families hopefully can enjoying the season. Let us remember the real reason for it all — the birth many years ago of a baby boy in a manger far, far away.

Whether or not there is a real Santa Claus has been questioned by young children maybe in kindergarten or lower school grades, but that’s part of the mystery that keeps them wide eyed and full of wonder.

I remember a Christmas long ago when our now 30-something year old granddaughter came home from kindergarten and told us that Santa Claus didn’t exist. Believe it or not but I can even remember when I told my parents the same thing. My mother and I both told Erin the same thing. We told her if she wanted him to come see her on Christmas, she had better believe.

That was the last we heard about that from her and while she is grown and now has four children of her own, she probably still believes. I know she posted her wish list on Facebook a few years ago. With all those children of her own, he probably has told each one of them at different times exactly what she was told when she was little.

I know that Santa Claus exists because I’ve known several of them through the years and have fond memories of each of them at this time every year.

My earliest memory of Santa was the time I thought I had caught him in the act of putting my gifts under the Christmas tree. I wondered why he didn’t have his red velvet suit with white fur on. I was told that Santa was running late and that Daddy was helping him.

That was during the years when we had our family Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and my grandparents already had arrived. My grandmother Nannie (her real name, not a pet name, but people always thought it strange that I called her by her first name) quickly loaded me up in her 1941 Chevy coupe and drove me around for some strange reason until the final tree trimming was complete.

I always wondered why most of my friends got their presents on Christmas morning and I got mine on Christmas Eve. I’m sure there was a lot of parents with crossed fingers for little stories they told their children.

The first Santa I remember was Joe Bear, the father of one of my classmates. He always set up in Lilley’s downtown and since we shopped there, I saw a lot of him and because Clyde, his son, and I were in the same grade at Central Ward School, he knew who I was. Therefore he always called me by my name and I was so pleased.

Tedd Riffell was the next Santa I remember. He thrilled thousands of Denison children for many years and had the most authentic Santa suit and wide belt with a big buckle with the words “Santa Claus” inscribed on it. Tedd even had a giant sleigh that he rode in during the Christmas Parade for years. A landscaper by profession, Tedd always marked December off his landscaping business calendar every year and became a full-time Santa.

He walked the downtown area of Denison and passed out candy to young and old alike. He even made his annual visit to The Denison Herald and passed out candy there. He was a very visible, jolly old St. Nick and even expanded his travels to house calls, parties and other activities during the season. He loved to pass out gifts to the little ones.

By the time our family had grown to two granddaughters, he made a pop call at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve during our family celebration. The look on the children’s faces when the front door opened and Santa was standing there in all his red and white glory was worth a million dollars.

The older one, who was probably 4 years old, ran to her mother and eyed the situation from afar. The younger one, who was about 3 was still in the “asking mode” and immediately began telling Santa what she wanted him to bring her for Christmas.

In more recent years there have been several other familiar Santas in the area. David Hawley took over after Tedd passed away. He even acquired Tedd’s prized suit and also was a frequent visitor to downtown Denison and other places.

Dan Bray kept his Santa appearance year around with his real white beard and stature being a Santa giveaway.

James Trainer, who also sports a full beard, wasn’t surprised when once I casually mentioned “You look like Santa Claus!” He replied that he is Santa — at least for the Christmas season. Mike Shaw has become Santa now and when he’s not dressed for the occasion, he still has his authentic beard and a Santa “sombrero” in red with white fur.

Lots of people don Santa outfits this time of year and that adds to the excitement of the season. They may be Santa helpers, but they express the fun of Christmas.

Toys for Tots, Denison Lions Club, the Salvation Army and a lot of other clubs, organizations and individuals play Santa to hundreds of families in our area and many children have even found that they get a blessing by giving to someone else.

All this plus being together with family and friends is the Christmas spirit. May we never lose this spirit of the season and may we always keep Christ in Christmas.

Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.