Perhaps there’s a little tinsel in the Mitchell family DNA.
That might explain why over the years, three members of the same family have donned the familiar red suits and grown and fluffed out their white beards to become Santa Claus at malls, churches and other places during the holiday season.
“I think we have a very lucky family,” said Santa Pete, 58, who works out of Atlantic Station and has been Santa for about four decades. With Christmas, “there’s a little bit of magic and we want to keep that magic alive.”
There’s also no way to determine how many families can boast multiple Santas in the same bloodline. After all, there’s no Santa registry kept outside of the North Pole.
(And, by the way, don't tell these guys they're playing Santa. To them, they are Santa.)
The older brother, Santa Rick, 64, an engineer by trade, also has some Santa experience under his belt and works out of the Santa Workshop at Avalon in Alpharetta. His first Santa gig was at the family’s church in the 1960s “back when pipe smoking was still OK. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a Santa today who smokes.”
Santa Rick lives in North Georgia (halfway between Jasper and Dawsonville) with his Mrs. Claus, Jan; and his brother lives in Marietta with his Mrs. Claus, Lorette.
The Santa legacy began with their dad, Richard “Mitch” Mitchell, a gift wrap salesman, who used to play a part-time Santa at his lodge, small gatherings and a church here and there. The family celebrated many of their early years in Massachusetts, “where everywhere you looked was a (Norman) Rockwell painting” at Christmastime, before moving to Georgia more than 40 years ago, said Santa Pete.
His sons don’t know what prompted him to start what has become a bit of a family tradition. He never really talked about it much.
But he loved seeing children’s faces when they saw old St. Nicholas.
“He was very giving,” said Santa Pete, which may have been why he was drawn to play Santa. “There’s where he shined and did his own thing, and both Santa Rick and I have picked a lot of that up. Dad just did it and moved on. There weren’t a lot of accolades.”
Santa Rick said his father had a bit of a thespian in him.
“I suppose he gave us our genes and our thinking and our ethics for doing it,” he said.
So what was Christmas like in their home?
Christmas was always a family affair.
Santa Rick recalled waking up early to open presents, then getting “all spit-shined and polished” to go to their grandmother’s home for dinner.
He and his siblings, including a sister, were big believers in Santa. The kids would put out cookies for Santa’s snack and eagerly await his arrival.
“I’m not sure if anyone ever really stops believing in Santa,” he said. “Santa is a little bit in every single person.”
After years away, Santa Rick reprises his role as the jolly old elf this year.
He was not working full time and had the time to devote to the role. He gets in the mood by playing Christmas music.
And he loves talking with children, same as his dad and brother.
“Christmas is for children,” he said. “You see Christmas through children. You don’t see it through adults, who are all tired and hassled from driving to overcrowded malls to buy gifts for people who don’t necessarily need or want them but you feel obligated. Your children still have a mystery, a wonder and a magic associated with Christmas.”
And there’s even a bit of sibling rivalry.
“I believe I am Santa,” said Santa Pete, who works on disaster simulations and special effects for events and motion pictures. “That’s the way I look at this.”
And he has some sage advice for those who may have doubts:
“You always believe in Santa or you get underwear,” he cautions. “That’s what happens.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com