Meet Santa & Mrs. Claus
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
from Nov. 25 through Dec. 23
at Bella Caffé in Park Rapids
By a remarkable twist of fate, Jolly Ol' Saint Nicholas is currently residing in Nevis.
Santa (a.k.a. Bud Gates) and the Mrs. (a.k.a. Deb Gates) recently retired as a mechanical engineer and graphic designer, respectively.
Last summer, they left sunny California to move closer to the North Pole.
"We love it here. It's awesome. It's a dream come true," Mrs. Claus said of their new, Minnesota abode. (She is from Bemidji, originally. She loves lakes and pines country.)
The festive couple had not planned to be conspicuous, but when they learned of Dick Rutherford's retirement, and later his passing, they offered their Santa services.
While living in Ridgecrest, Calif., they realized there wasn't a Santa in the community parade.
"We have to do something about that," he said, finding the appropriate red suit at a thrift store.
"We worked heavily with the Marine Corps and their Toys for Tots program," explained Mrs. Claus. "We did the community parades."
In addition to community events, they were booked for service organizations and private parties.
Today, they look forward to making special appearances in Park Rapids, Bemidji, Walker, Nevis, and Detroit Lakes, to name a few wintry villages.
Santa and Mrs. Claus will be attending the Yuletide Sampler and Community Tree-Lighting Ceremony on Nov. 24 in Park Rapids.
"We're excited," said Mrs. Claus. "Santa Claus represents such a unifying, wonderful spirit of cohesiveness. And I love Christmas. It's the best time of year. I've already started decorating my house."
Their own children are grown.
"So we'll adopt all of the children at Christmas we see," said Mrs. Claus.
Santa sings holiday classics and plays both the guitar and ukulele. He practices every day.
Mrs. Claus enjoys reading stories to children.
We're very interactive. We like to read stories. We'll also sing," she said.
Fourth graders typically ask Santa questions, while little tykes "just stare. It's just magical. That's what got us hooked," said Mrs. Claus. "We've had children cry when they had to leave Santa's lap. We sure get more from them than we could ever give."
If the real, white beard doesn't convince children of Santa's authenticity, the vintage cutter sleigh dating from the 1840s to 1860s should persuade.
"It's really cute," said Mrs. Claus.
Elves did not handcraft the small, two-person sleigh. They are much too busy making toys. Rather, the shrewd couple purchased the sleigh on Craigslist.
They are currently on a quest to find a reindeer to pull it — or perhaps a pony or mule with proper training would do. Antlers are not required.
They can be reached at SantaAndMissesClaus@yahoo.com.
During the off-season (i.e., summer), the Clauses will store the sleigh and plan to sail on Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods and other large water bodies.
"Our sailboat is the biggest one you can trailer, so we can take it to any lake we want to," explained Mrs. Claus.
Another hobby has them competing nationally. They are both cowboy-action shooters, firing single-action pistols while wearing period-correct Civil War clothing. They have been cowboy re-enactors since 2009.
"We never lack for things to do," said Mrs. Claus.