Behind the Beard

Olympia volunteer Charles Clapp has a unique seasonal gig

Charles Clapp has had a big white beard since 1975. As an elementary school teacher in California, he’d hear the comparisons to Jolly Old Saint Nick from his students. One day, he realized there might be a job in that comparison.

“The lightbulb went (on): ‘The kids have been kidding me about doing Santa, maybe I’ll do Santa,’” said Clapp. “And I knew a number of people who worked in sales and hotels and things like that, so I made myself available to them, and the business built up.”

Clapp has been playing the part since 1995.

When he moved to Washington in 2006, the North Pole business followed. He began working with a Santa photography company that sends him to Toronto, Canada, every year during the holiday season.

“It’s a magical thing, but it’s not only for kids.”

In the off-season when he’s not listening to wishes, he volunteers with the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau. If you happen to be at the Washington State Capitol grounds and see Santa in spring, that’s why.

This year he even won an award for his volunteer service. Clapp has worked in tourism and hospitality since 1982, managing motor coach tours, taking groups all over North America.

Sometimes, kids and families will come up to him in the offseason “just to say hi.” Clapp will ask kids if they eat their vegetables and listen to their wish lists. He likes “camping it up” with college kids, and occasionally an adult will ask him to take a selfie.

“It’s a magical thing, but it’s not only for kids,” said Clapp. Santa equals happiness for many people — and that is ageless.

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is a staff writer at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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