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Sitting in a SAIT coffee shop, Doug Craig takes a sip from his mug. The subject of Santa comes up. It brings a big smile to his face, a sparkle to his eye and then jolly old St. Nick magically appears.
Craig says Santa Claus has been part of his life for decades. In fact Santa is Craig’s soul.
“I’ve been Santa since the early ’80s. Back then, I was a big rough tough rugged man” says Craig (BA ’75). “When I was dressed as Santa I could experience the happiness and joy from the kids and the respect from the parents. It was a good way for a guy like me to let my softer side out.”
The 67 year old says he has had many ups and downs over the years, but Santa has been a constant. While Craig graduated with an accounting degree from SAIT in 1975 and went on to become a successful accountant, he spent many of his adult years involved in a motorcycle gang that culminated in a low point in 1979 that made him question his lifestyle, start on the path to ministry and find a new life as a SAIT instructor.
“That was the worst year of my life, and it sent me on a quest that guided me towards my church and my career at SAIT,” says Craig.
In December of the same year, Craig was approached by the Business Department – now the School of Business – about a teaching contract. He was an instructor from 1980 to 1988 before leaving to form a church in Red Deer. After returning to Calgary in 1997, Craig found his way back to SAIT and has been teaching ever since.
“SAIT saved my life – the joy of teaching and the positive energy from students give me a lift every day,” says Craig.
Two years ago, Craig decided to take his passion for the Christmas spirit to a new level and become a professional Santa Claus. First he read a book called All About Being Santa: The Manual of Bringing Joy by Calgarian Victor Nevada. Then he grew out his hair and beard, naturally snow-white (and yes, it’s all his), and he enrolled in Santa School. There’s no question that Craig looks the part, but he says it’s much more than that.
“The key is to be there 100 per cent. When I’m Santa Doug, I’m not playing him, I ‘am’ him. When I step into the suit I am Santa, case closed.”
Craig says having the ‘real’ Santa hair and beard is a bonus. During one school appearance, some Grade 6 boys goaded Craig to take off his hat, trying to prove he wasn’t the real deal. “I let them egg me on a bit. Then I took off my hat and shook my hair and beard. Their jaws hit the floor. Two of them shouted: ‘He’s real!’”
While Santa’s toyshop is in full swing this time of year, Craig looks beyond the idea of giving “things” for the holidays.
“The real meaning of the holidays is creating an ambiance of giving,” says Craig. “It’s important to understand that giving a gift isn’t about the size, quantity or cost – it’s the love that goes into it.”
Craig has many appearances planned for the holiday season. He gets paid for some and some he does for free. He says getting paid isn’t the point.
“What a great gift to be able to bring joy and hope to children’s lives. If you counted the joy I receive from doing this as dollars and cents, I’d be a millionaire.”