No pause for Stafford’s Santa and Mrs. Claus
BY KATIE THISDELL
When Dale and Trish Parris go out to eat at any time of the year, they rarely get to enjoy their hot food.
They may first be spotted in a red Toyota pickup with a “Santa C” license plate and a Christmas decal on the back.
Or a child may point out the “SC” embroidered on Dale’s collar, the “HoHoHo” button on the back pocket of his pants or one of his many tacky Santa shirts.
Dale, 63, with a real beard white as snow and a belly that you could say shakes like a bowl full of jelly, admits he looks forward to these interruptions throughout the year.
He’ll wink and smile, and hand out a sticker that says “I Met Santa.”
The Stafford County couple just finished their 17th year being Santa and Mrs. Claus. Ask kids and adults in the area, and they’ll say this couple is one of the best.
“Everybody knows them as Santa Claus,” said daughter Courtney Parris, 24, who now lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. They also have another daughter and two grandchildren.
But just because Christmas has passed on the calendar doesn’t mean that the Parrises get a break from the attention.
For them and many other “Brothers in Red,” being Santa is a mindset and a way of life.
“A lot of people think it’s just a character—you throw on a suit, talk to some kids and go home,” said Trish, 55. “But they live it 365 days a year.”
The couple had never planned to become Santa’s helpers.
Both retired Marines, they had vague plans of one day getting a motor home, traveling the country and riding Harleys.
But one request changed it all.
Rock Hill Elementary School held a “Breakfast With Santa” event while their youngest daughter, Courtney, was a student. But when that Santa passed away in 1995, the school asked the Parrises if they could do it.
“Hell no,” was Dale’s initial response. “I’m not some fat old elf. I’m a retired Marine.”
At the time, Dale had just a shadow of a beard and a fit physique, displayed in a photo on the fridge in the couple’s North Stafford home.
But before the event he did agree to don the suit and beard—but not alone. He brought Mrs. Claus along. Trish reluctantly sewed a set of red outfits in the evenings, after their younger daughter went to bed.
Before he grew his own whiskers, Dale bought a designer white wig and beard that covered all of his face except his eyes and nose.
The day of the breakfast and craft show, Courtney had no idea that her parents were the jolly Christmas characters—until Trish spoke to her.
“It was a little bit of a shocker,” Courtney said.
That year, one or two families asked if Santa and Mrs. Claus could attend other events. Three or four called the next year.
“It snowballed from there,” Trish said.
Now the two have a booked calendar throughout November and December.
They go to family gatherings, fundraising events, community parties and more. They charge $130 per hour for many events, based on the area’s going rate for other performers such as clowns.
They’re also regularly the Santa couple in the Colonial Beach Christmas parade.
At a recent Christmas luncheon for seniors at the Rowser Building in Stafford, the oldest fans were excited as the Clauses handed out candy.
“Santa’s not only for kids, he’s for us, too!” one man exclaimed.
“This is the real Santa,” announced another woman.
The Parrises have attended a baby’s birth—one of their strangest requests—and been asked to bring back deceased relatives.
Courtney Parris says her father is somehow always able to answer these questions—and the role has changed him over the years.
“He’s always had this very hard mentality about him, but since he became Santa Claus, he’s had a whole different mentality,” Courtney said. “He’s just so good at it, it’s ridiculous. He’s so good with the kids.”
‘PEOPLE EXPECT THAT’
As you might expect, Christmas is never truly over for the Parrises.
Their home near State Route 610 is festive all year—though they do take down the outside decorations.
Dale decided recently that it didn’t make sense to spend so long packing and unpacking the interior decorations.
Added Trish: “People expect that when they come to our house.”
They have eight or nine trees with different themes: Mardi Gras, patriotic, animals, elves, White House ornaments and a family tree.
Christmas- and Santa-themed artwork covers the walls, including a beautifully detailed quilt and a portrait of Santa Dale kneeling over a baby in a manger. Santa figurines fill shelves downstairs. One of their favorites is a pair that Dale gave Trish when they were married in 1980.
For the next few weeks, they’ll be making sure their outfits are all ready for the next Christmas season. They’ll sew on buttons, get dresses and coats cleaned and boots repaired.
Everything is stored in boxes and hanging bags—though they say it would be nice to have a special dressing room.
Meanwhile they’ll keep the red accents in their everyday wear. Trish often wears red shirts or shorts, while Dale has other small embellishments.
These other 10 months, they’re also busy learning about being the Clauses.
“There’s a whole world out there we never knew existed, and most people don’t,” Trish said.
That world includes organizations, websites and conventions devoted to learning about Santa, including the ethics and storytelling.
The Parrises are part of a network of Virginia Santas who get together throughout the year for lunches. They vacation with a few other Claus couples—Trish is hoping to go to the beach this year.
They also plan to attend two conferences. One is in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and includes a parade with hundreds of Santas. At such gatherings, they’ve learned about clothing and accessories, hair and hygiene. Dale now curls his mustache.
The second convention, in Santa Claus, Ind., will focus on the history behind Santa. There, Trish will be presenting a session about Mrs. Claus.
It’s not hard to make friends at the conventions when you’re one of the Clauses, Dale said.
“We didn’t know anybody, but we knew everybody because everybody was Santa.”
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975