Becoming Santa: Local St. Nicks Have a Most Wonderful Time

We know the weeks leading up to Christmas are incredibly busy for Santa and Mrs. Claus—and that’s also true for all of Santa’s helpers around the world who don a big red suit and snow-white beard each holiday season.

Even when it’s off season, thousands of St. Nicks gather at conventions across the country, including Discover Santa, an event that hosted more than 800 professional Mr. and Mrs. Clauses in Branson, Missouri, in 2016. There’s even a Santa convention in Gatlinburg—aptly titled Santa Family Reunion—that plans to return in March 2019 after 300 attendees gathered earlier this year.

With Christmas Day approaching, local Santas are in the midst of the their busiest few weeks of the year. In between photo shoots and Christmas parties, the Pulse caught up with a couple folks who adopt a jolly alter-ego as Santa Claus.

Springfield (Tennessee) resident Jay Swafford and Unionville native Mike McClain visit Murfreesboro, Smyrna and other nearby communities throughout the season for holiday photo sessions, private parties and public events. According to the Santas, they remain in high demand throughout December.

Murfreesboro Pulse: When did you decide to become a professional Santa and how did you get started?
Swafford: I told my wife long ago that when I retired I’d like to be a Santa. That was probably 15 years ago. I retired from a Nashville TV station a few years ago and began appearing as Santa at several local events. Each year I’m asked to appear at more and more events.

What kind of preparations go into becoming Santa for the season?
First, you have to have a Santa suit and then find all the accessories. Since I don’t like fake beards, I grow out my own natural beard a few months before the season. I’ve always had chin whiskers and a mustache, so a few months before Thanksgiving I begin to grow my beard out. At 63, the beard doesn’t need much touch up anymore. My wife actually makes Santa’s cheeks rosy, and I have a natural “bowl full of jelly” (no fake padding needed).

What is the best part of being Mr. Claus?
I enjoy the Christmas season. When the kids see Santa, their faces light up with excitement. I always love that. Bringing joy to children is about the best feeling in the world.

Do you have any favorite moments?
A few years back, my wife brought our 3-year-old granddaughter to a local event to meet Santa. When she approached the stage, she loudly announced, “That’s Papa Jay!” My wife had to quickly quiet her down and explain to her that her Papa Jay was one of Santa’s helpers. A classic moment!

What type of events do you attend as Santa during the holiday season?
I’ve provided Santa visits for nursing homes, business parties, photo shoots, Girl Scout parties, holiday brunches, private home visits, YMCA Christmas events and Belk’s Santa Fest.


Mike Mcclain


Murfreesboro Pulse: When did you decide to become a professional Santa and how did you get started?
Mcclain: I started as Santa five years ago as a Santa for Community High School’s special education department in Unionville, Tennessee.

What kind of preparations go into becoming Santa for the season?
I study questions asked by kids. Since I work around kids, getting in the Christmas spirit is not too hard. The costume preparations and details are important for the experience.

What is the best part of being Mr. Claus?
Seeing the look of excitement in the kids’ and adults’ eyes. You have to remember that it’s an experience for all people no matter the age.

Do you have any favorite moments?
My favorite memory is every time I go to our special education program at Community High School. Words can’t describe the experience.

A few local Santa appearances throughout December:

Santa Photos at Stones River Mall (1720 Old Fort Pkwy.)
Daily through Christmas Eve

Paws and Claus at Stones River Mall (1720 Old Fort Pkwy.)
Monday, Dec. 4 and 11 from 6–8 p.m.

Snaps with Santa at The Avenue (2615 Medical Center Pkwy.)
Saturday, Dec. 9 at 12 p.m.

Christmas in the Depot District (115 Front St., Smyrna)
Saturday, Dec. 9 from 2–8 p.m.

Photos with Santa at 4-H Pancake Breakfast and Marketplace (Lane Agri-Park, 315 John R. Rice Blvd.)
Saturday, Dec. 9, breakfast from 8–11 a.m. and marketplace from 8 a.m.–4 p.m.

Santa in the Courthouse (Murfreesboro Public Square)
Dec. 8, 9, 15 and 16 from 6–8 p.m.

Eagleville 14th Annual Christmas Parade, (Main Street, Eagleville)
Saturday, Dec. 9 at 11 a.m.

Rutherford County Christmas Parade (East Main Street, Murfreesboro)
Sunday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m.


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