Photo by Cathy Webb
Santa Claus, assisted by Chief Elf Joie, poses with Jonas Sappington at an Elks Hall event in Granite City.
GRANITE CITY — There may not be “such a clatter” on the lawn or eight tiny reindeer spotted nearby, but for the last 21 years, Dennis McBride has brought joy to thousands of children when Santa Claus was just too overbooked to make all of his appointments.
McBride’s stint as one of Santa’s helpers began at the JCPenney Outlet Store’s after-Christmas sale in Jennings, Mo. Dennis and his wife spied a beautiful Santa suit on sale. They snapped it up and saved it for the next year.
The original plan was to dress up for his own family, but once friends and family got the word that Santa was in business in their neighborhood, his schedule began to fill up quickly. Every year his Santa visits grew and his wife had to become his booking agent, keeping a calendar of events and appearances. McBride says the joy he saw in the eyes of the children and their parents when he took on the persona of Santa Claus made him realize he was making a difference in his own small way.
Over the years, more and more of Santa crept into his persona and delivery. Today, he appears at businesses, family parties and more. He has been one of the Santa Clauses for the Granite City Cinema, has appeared in several parades, and has visited many schools.
“It never gets old,” McBride says. “When the children smile and run to me, it lights up my heart every time, just like it was the first time I suited up.”
When his daughter Brandi grew up and realized it was her daddy in the suit, she joined the act as his “Chief Elf.” For many years, she served as Santa’s helper, getting to know the many children and becoming a highlight of the visit, as well.
“I finally got too old to be his elf and he had to go back to his solo routine,” she says.
Carrying on the family tradition, Brandi’s daughter Joie has taken up the cause and replaced her mother as Chief Elf.
McBride has made thousands of visits during the last 21 years and delivered hundreds of gifts to happy recipients. Most of the gifts were the usual toys and pets, with puppies among his most popular gifts. One particular year is very memorable for the area’s busiest Santa, as he delivered a full-size horse to an overjoyed young lady.
“That was one excited girl and one really big horse to deliver,” he says.
Encouraged by the people who tell him over the years he has come to closely resemble the real McCoy, McBride hopes to continue this tradition for many years to come.
And he still exits the stores and schools by jingling his bells and proclaiming, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”