Two youngsters dragged a large, bulky bag through the toy section of a store, making a great deal of noise as they strained to pull the sack through the shoppers. A manager approached and admonished, “Now, boys, if you don’t settle down, Santa won’t come to your house.”
The boys didn’t miss a beat. “That’s what you think. Who do you think we have in this sack?!”
We know it’s not the Real Deal Santa, for he’s busy meeting children and listening to Christmas wishes as the big day approaches. Joe McGee, formerly of Fayetteville and now living in Senoia, makes roughly forty appearances each Christmas season. He donates every penny of his proceeds to charity. Last year, his wife Dawn shared, they donated $35,000. (see www.therealdealsanta.com).
Joe’s Santa journey started after his brother David died. In 2010, David’s daughter had twins born two months early. They wondered if the girls would survive.
As summer turned to fall, David let his beard and hair grow. David visited often, wearing a Santa hat. As the visits continued, David decided to become Santa and enrolled in Santa School in Midland, Michigan. He loved bringing joy to kids.
David faced many health challenges and ended up in intensive care for fifty-five days. Joe stayed by his side the entire time except for one brief period. A heart attack took David’s life.
Dawn encouraged Joe to don the red suit and continue David’s legacy, and Joe thought about it. In April 2012, he discovered he had prostate cancer and his research led him to The University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute.
“When I got there, I’d see these kids, bald-headed, playing in the lobby. It moved me to tears.” He decided to take up Santa and raise money for the kids battling cancer at UFHPTI and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. They have raised over $120,000 for these two hospitals.
In September 2012, Joe finished his last treatment and let his beard grow. He attended Santa School in Gatlinburg, consulted local Santas and began purchasing the expensive attire that quality Santas wear. For example, a Santa suit costs between $1,000-$5,000, while the boots cost $700, and the belt $400. Christmas, 2013, the fun began.
Playing Santa became his passion and he’s very good at it. His love for children, his desire to bring joy to young cancer patients, and his dedication to raise money to fund treatment and patient support services drives Santa Joe.
“There’s not a shadow of a doubt I know I’ve been called to do this.” Dawn dresses up as Mrs. Claus and often appears with Santa.
Playing Santa changed Joe’s life.
“I have been touched by so many people. I had become cynical. I quit watching the news. But I discovered there are a lot of good people out there and the world isn’t as bad a place as we sometimes think it is.”
And the kids touch Joe’s heart. His Santa brings a smile to their faces, yet they often bring tears to his eyes.
“Nothing I’ve ever been given comes close to the gift I get when I look in these kids’ eyes. It’s unbelievable to be able to see them when they’re sitting in your lap with magic in their eyes.”
In many cases, the child sitting in his lap may not be here next Christmas and that moment is Santa’s opportunity to bring cheer to a sick boy or girl.
“I was doing a Delta event and one little boy who came to me was gone a month later. We have to make some sort of positive impact when we can.”
Santa Joe encountered a bad situation at a Florida hospital. This patient had been fighting her cancer battle for a long time. As the mom held her hand and as Santa listened and encouraged, Joe removed a bell from his boot, presented it to the girl and said, “Every time you ring this bell, know Santa is praying for you.”
The children make all sorts of requests, but one child asked, “Santa, can you heal my momma? She just had surgery.”
Santa replied, “Those are the kind of gifts I’d like to be able to give the most, but I can’t do those kinds of things. But I can pray and ask God to heal your momma.”
As Joe strives to bring joy to a child’s Christmas, he’s all about the real meaning of Christmas.
“Playing Santa is not about me. It’s about what the Lord’s doing. I’ll ask a child, ‘You know the reason for the season, don’t you?’ and then I’ll tell him or her “Jesus is born.’”
Joe stated, “You have no idea how many people don’t know the reason for Christmas.” This Santa does and he reminds people every chance he gets: “. . . the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (I John 4:14).
[David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Georgia. The church family gathers at 352 McDonough Road, just past McCurry Park, and invites you to join them this Sunday for Bible study at 9:45 and worship at 10:55 a.m. Visit them online at www.mcdonoughroad.org and like them on Facebook. Check out Pastor Chancey’s new book, “The Day I Nearly Met Dolly: Tales of Faith, Family and a Few Home Runs” on Amazon.]