What they thought was a one-time gig, has turned into a lifestyle for Hermann residents Bill, 71, and Louise Fields, who have taken their characters of Santa and Mrs. Claus to new levels.
In 2015, the couple even attended a professional “Santa Claus School” to hone their craft and make Christmas visits with children even more magical and memorable.
Fields, who is 1,747 in Santa years, has adopted the Santa lifestyle and now works as a professional Santa along with his wife Louise who accompanies him at times as Mrs. Claus and others as his car/sleigh driver as he visits homes.
“This all began when the man who had played Santa in the Hermann area for many years passed away suddenly,” Fields said. “I had a beard that was kind of white. I thought I was just doing it one time.”
Fields added Louise is a phenomenal seamstress who can sew anything, so the couple designed a suit and off he went. Five years and several suit designs later, the pair are still at it.
After a career in the Navy and the aerospace and auto industries, Fields took on photography as his passion and talent as an artist translated well into the role of Santa.
“This is about bringing happiness to children,” he said. “We do this from our hearts. I used to judge my life by how many ski seasons I had left, now, it’s how many Christmases. This is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Fields recalled an interaction with a child that sealed the deal for him. He was performing as Santa at an event and was approached by a young boy.
“He told me what I (Santa) had brought him last year,” Fields recalled as he choked back tears. “Later, I was told the child was autistic and never speaks. He spoke to Santa. That’s when I decided I had to do this.”
The desire to perfect their new craft led the couple to Santa School, where they learned techniques and insights most of the “mall Santas” would never know or employ.
“So many Santas do cliche things because that’s what people expect Santa to do,” Fields said. “Sometimes those aren’t the best things to say. I never, ever say Ho, Ho, Ho. That’s how you write a laugh, not how you say a laugh.”
Fields explained visiting with Santa should focus on positive achievements and the standard of asking children if they’ve been good all year may cause them more anxiety than joy.
Other portions of the schooling included going to local toy stores to research popular toys and their prices.
“You never promise to bring anything,” Fields said. “Some parents can’t afford the most expensive toys. You simply tell them Santa will do the best he can but the toy shop is busy and there is a lot of demand.”
Fields added when he plays Santa he only recommends small gifts and stresses the big gifts children receive on Christmas should come from their parents.
One other little known Santa secret involves the milk and cookies normally left out as a treat for the jolly elf as he travels the world.
“You can’t possibly eat all the cookies,” Fields said. “Some are better than others. But, you never know how long the milk has been sitting out.”
Every year a child grows older, the closer they get to figuring out Santa isn’t real.
Fields says each year, at every event, there are pint-size detectives who are on the border of still believing and will go to great lengths to test Santa’s reality.
“Kids are so impacted by what they see on television,” Fields said. “We try to gauge their reactions. Sometimes you see stars in their eyes and sometimes they are asking themselves ‘Do I believe in you’?”
The Santa school taught Fields some stock answers to frequently asked questions, but he definitely has to think on his feet.
“You try to be spontaneous and answer their questions off the cuff,” Fields said. “They try and trap you by asking what their address is or what color is their house? I tell them I’m usually on the roof and its dark and can’t see the colors or numbers. I also tell them I have a magic key to get in if they don’t have a fireplace.”
As their popularity grows the demand for Santa and Mrs. Claus have grown as well. Fields is a card carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas and the couple are continuously tweaking their costumes to fit whatever image of Santa is desired.
Last year, the couple performed at 15 to 20 events in this area as well as some in St. Louis. Santa also can make appearances at individual homes and parties, but admits sometimes Mrs. Claus has dropped him off at the wrong house.
Fields can be contacted by adults or children by calling 573-486-5252, or by e-mail at email@example.com.