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Mr. and Mrs. Claus are making their rounds
Here in Kitsap County, Santa comes around long before Dec. 25 every year.
In fact, he and his partner-in-crime, Mrs. Claus, have been making early appearances in the area for the past 25 years. The pair, also known as Dave and Dee Riley, are the ones who book up the Clauses’ day planner as early as September.
“Word gets out,” said Dave Riley. “This year I thought we were going to do six (appearances).”
As of mid-December, the couple is scheduled to appear at 16 different locations.
It could be because Mr. Riley is a dead-ringer for Santa Claus with his clear blue eyes, naturally rosy red cheeks and thick white beard. His belly, which Mrs. Claus claims “is all him” also adds to his believable appearance.
Or, it could be because the duo show up for free to anyone who asks.
“Candy canes … that’s all they need to pay us,” Dee Riley said.
The candy canes go to the children who sit on Santa’s lap. In exchange, sometimes Santa will get a hug, a cookie or even a letter. The red sack that he carries around with him is full of drawings and letters from kids. Depending on the year, gift requests vary from iPods to Barbies to Batman toys.
The couple — who have been married for 45 years —put on quite the show for those who come to see them.
“Give and take,” Dave Riley said of having a good marriage. “We get mad once in a while. (We) take a couple hours and we get back at it.”
It may also help that the couple has married three times through vow renewals, Dave Riley joked.
Young and old, the Clauses live for entertaining their crowds. In between acts, they’ll go out to dinner in a restaurant in full garb. The attention they garner is from people of all ages.
In all his years of playing the role of Saint Nick, Riley has only met one other acting Santa, and it was on somebody’s lawn. When comparing his act to others, Riley supposes there’s only a few things that set him apart: “Well, I got a real beard,” he said. “I think I’m jollier than most.”
There’s always a candy cane for the young ones who come up to greet him, Mr. Riley said. Even if he’s just wearing a red Santa cap and street clothes, children will come barreling up to him howling, “Santa!” when they see him.
For those who must know, Santa’s favorite cookies are peanut butter ones.
“You want to be Christmas-y and you want to make people happy,” said Mrs. Riley. “We both love to dress up.”
They’ve got the Mr. and Mrs. Claus piece down pat with authentic outfits and other physical attributes. Their act, however, is what really makes the little ones believe.
If Mr. Claus forgets a child’s name, Mrs. Claus will lean down and whisper it in his ear. Sometimes kids who are too scared to sit on Santa’s lap will sit on his counterpart’s lap instead. In every action, they showcase teamwork they’ve learned over the years.
“You make it a jolly thing,” said Dee Riley. “We figure we’re doing some good somewhere.”
Many of their events are for nonprofit organizations, such as Martha & Mary, Holly Ridge Center and senior centers. The pair also make rounds at the American Legion children's party and "Breakfast with Santa" at VFW Post No. 239. Their favorite people to perform for are those with special needs, Mr. Claus said.
The pair has visited Martha & Mary for at least the last five years, said Renee Eicher, center director.
“They were very, very good,” she said. “Infants and toddlers are always a bit challenging because they don’t like costumes and whatnot.”
But that never fazes the Rileys. They sit and wait for the little one to make the decision.
This year, Eicher watched as one little girl contemplated whether or not she wanted to sit on Santa’s lap. Her grandmother said she wouldn’t since she was frightened by him last year. Much to the surprise of those around, the little girl was thrilled when it was her turn.
“She flew up on his lap and just gave him a huge hug around his neck," said Eicher. "She was just so cute."
For many of the families at the private childcare center, the visit was a wonderful surprise, Eicher said.
“I think it’s all just part of the magic of Christmas and helps them get into the spirit,” she said. “A lot of the children might not have the chance to go to the mall and pay to sit on Santa’s lap. A lot of the families said it was a blessing.”
Despite the dozens of different requests they get, their American Legion Post 149 is always first on the list because that’s where they first got started with their gig, the couple said.
At first, it was just Dave who made appearances as Santa Claus. Mrs. Riley would attend, and she’d wear a hat that read, “I believe in Santa.” After a while of making solo appearances, Dave Riley suggested to his wife that she play “The Mrs” part to round out the act.
“We just started, and a few other people asked,” said Dee Riley. “We started goofing off.”
In the early days, Mr. Claus wore a faux beard since his wasn’t fully white. The older he got, the whiter it got, mainly with the help of some pomade that Mrs. Claus would apply to his beard.
“It’s getting to be less and less I need to use it (the pomade),” Dave Riley said.
Nowadays, his own beard is almost as white as snow, and his belly has filled out nicely in his red suit.
“(There’s) no pillow, and the belt is awful tight,” Dave Riley joked.
This year, to add charm and some new characters, the pair also invited their granddaughters--Teresa Kennedy and Alana Riley--to take part as elves.
“It feels good. It makes you proud that they’re not stuck up,” Dee Riley said of her granddaughters. “It kinda makes me happy and proud ‘cause we didn’t ask them to volunteer.”
Despite their nice, sweet appearances, Mr. and Mrs. Claus know how to be naughty, too.
When they’re at adult gatherings, the pair don’t have to watch their swearing as much and may even tell an inappropriate joke or two.
“It gets a little more adult-ish,” laughs Mrs. Claus.
Whether they are sitting in a senior center or clinking drinks at a private Christmas party, the two have a clear mission when it comes to sharing their time as the famed Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
“You gotta spread a little cheer around Christmas,” said Dee Riley.”The kids aren’t getting the Christmases they used to get.”
For Santa himself, the look on the kids’ faces is enough to keep going year after year. Even for the skeptical ones, Santa has a video of real reindeer that transform older kids back into believers.
He suspects that as long as there’s enough Christmas spirit, he’ll be dressing up as ‘ole Saint Nick.
“I guess as long as I’m still standing and as long as I’m still healthy (I’ll do it),” he said. “I’ll be doing it for a good many years as long as there’s requests for Santa Claus.”