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Mountain Home Magazine

Santa Has to Go to School!?

by B. Mark Schmerling

“I’ve been around a long time—since the 600s,” offers Pete “Coudy Santa” Wyatt recently. The Coudersport resident and bona fide Santa Claus traces his gift-giving and generous nature back to Saint Nicholas of Myra, after whom the spirit of Santa, and the accompanying spirit of generosity, stem. And, regardless of how long he’s really been around, Coudy Santa is kindly and appears ageless.

The original Saint Nicholas is known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. Because of his good works, especially to the benefit of certain groups, Saint Nicholas is known as the patron saint of an eclectic mix of people—sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, prostitutes, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students. One story surrounding Saint Nicholas tells that he dropped three sacks of gold coins through the window of a home in which three sisters lived, so their father could pay a wedding dowry for each daughter.

Though known locally as Coudy Santa, Pete has performed as the Jolly Old Elf in many locations, including North Pole, New York (near Lake Placid), and at various Six Flags Great Adventure locations, including those in Bradford and Kane, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and in New England.

Everyone begins somewhere. Coudy Santa is no exception, having followed the advice of his wife, who suggested that he become Saint Nick, this after a youngster had approached him (he was wearing a ball cap at the time) and “asked if I was Santa.”

Pete then attended a comprehensive Santa school in Torrington, Connecticut, where he and other aspirants were taught how to dress, where to purchase authentic outfits (Marcia Bunnell, a seamstress who lived across the street from him, provided Coudy Santa’s first suit), and how to find Santa gigs. Plus, as Pete explains, the 2,000 or so members of ClausNet, to which he belongs, are vetted. Part of that process is certification that those members pose no danger to the young folks who visit Saint Nick. It’s also here that serious Santas and Santa wannabes can offer each other Santa critiques—in a jolly way, of course.

In 2011, Coudy Santa made his first professional appearance at, appropriately, Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, New York. That came about after Pete read in ClausNet that a Santa was needed there, as the previous Santa had suffered a stroke. For five days a week, Pete worked that event for five years.

“I interviewed, and they hired me on the spot,” Pete remembers of his Santa’s Workshop job. New York’s North Pole is the oldest theme park in the U.S., built in 1948 and opened in 1949. Pete’s authentic performance paved the way for numerous return visits in his chosen role. And it was at that storied location that he realized he needed a team, one that included a publicist and photographer. Coudersport’s Curt Weinhold has served in that role admirably, and is the photographer Pete called to take his initial, professional head shot.

“Before I was set up [with Curt], I was ‘Redneck Santa,’” Pete notes.

Through Joe Barney, a promoter for Six Flags, Pete found himself playing the Santa role at the Winter Festival at Six Flags’ Great Adventure location near Trenton, New Jersey. After that, Pete recalls, “I started picking up gigs—lots of gigs.” One was in Bradford, Pennsylvania, where the Main Street Committee found him.

“They fell in love with me,” Pete says, noting he was Santa in the town’s Christmas parade. During his first appearance in that festivity, he rode in a bucket attached to a hook and ladder truck. In Kane, recalls Pete, their Santa Committee members spoke as one, saying, ‘You gotta get “Coudy Santa.”’

“He is so good with the children,” Curt observes. Part of that might be Pete’s unique Santa spiel.

“Kids ask me how I get to all the houses in one night,” Pete says. “It’s not really one night. Every time I cross a time zone, I pick up time. Then, I cross the International Date Line, and pick up another day.”

He throws in a bit of physics, too, noting that according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, the faster one goes, the slower the time goes.

“And,” he notes, “my reindeer are really fast.”

He adds that at North Pole, New York, when he stood up quickly, his cap appeared to achieve zero gravity, and kept rising. He figured that if he got his reindeer to jump higher, they’d accomplish the same. He did, and they did.

According to Pete, many aging Baby Boomers have dreams of being Santa, “but not all are suited.” (A little inside Santa joke.) However, “I tell people I’m better than most (Santas), but not as good as a few. But, I’m really good about getting kids who are reticent about Santa, and turn[ing] them around.”

One way to do that is via Santa suit authenticy. He says kids typically check “the three Bs—boots, beard, and belt—to determine whether Santa is real.”

An Amish craftsman made a great belt for Coudy Santa.

“All of my boots are real boots,” he notes. “I don’t have those plastic shoe-toppers.”

And the beard? Well, maybe you’ll have to check that one out for yourself.

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