There comes a point in the life of every one of Santa’s helpers’ lives when it’s time to hang up the Santa hat. For Dennis Brumbaugh of Elma, that time has come.
Brumbaugh — as seen on the Montesano Fire Department truck during the annual Festival of Lights parade, and celebrated throughout the holiday season by children throughout the Harbor (OK, maybe they’re assuming he’s Santa) — has been carrying the Santa torch since the early 1990s.
As the resident Santa, Brumbaugh’s story also has been told as a feature in past issues of The Vidette.
Brumbaugh’s origin story features names of past Harbor leadership. Originally, Brumbaugh stepped up to fill the Santa suit while former longtime Elma mayor David Osgood’s father was unable to don the holiday costume. To cover the vacancy, Brumbaugh borrowed a Santa suit from former Aberdeen mayor Bill Simpson.
Brumbaugh said Festival of Lights coordinator Moraya Wilson’s decision to step down following this year’s parade helped lead to his decision to follow suit.
“She was saying this was going to be her last year and I thought, ‘You know what? It’s probably a good time for me,’” Brumbaugh said. He recently turned 68. “I’ve been doing it for some 30 years.”
The experience, Brumbaugh says, has left him with stories.
“Some of the stories you’ll hear from these kids will just crack you up. You’ll hear of all kinds of weird stuff that happens,” he said. “It’s a great experience. They see you in a whole different light.”
When a kid is “a stinker” (Brumbaugh’s word, loosely defined by The Vidette as “a child who is cruisin’ for a lump of coal on Christmas morning”), Brumbaugh says he plays along, keeping up the act as Santa.
“I remember why I’m there for the whole thing — I’m there to entertain the kids and make life happy,” he said.
While Brumbaugh admits he can be “probably more of a ba humbug about Christmas,” he also says he loves the holiday.
“It’s one of the great holidays,” Brumbaugh said. “I don’t like the commercialization of it because that takes away from the birth of Jesus.”
When asked if he believed the characterization of Santa was a commercialization, he agreed that it possibly was, but Santa is more than that.
“Santa is about love,” Brumbaugh said. “If you see the light in the kid’s eyes, a little kid who’s got nothing and he’s happy to get one toy, and you give him several toys or boots or a jacket, it’ll make your whole year.”
Brumbaugh said his favorite part of Christmas as a child was going to midnight Mass with his family. After Mass, before bed, he and his four brothers were allowed to open one present each.
So, this Santa may hang his hat at the end of the year, but Brumbaugh said nothing is completely done and over.
“It’s not that I couldn’t do it. I’m not selling the suit, but if somebody said ‘Hey, I’d like to (be Santa),’ I’ll make them a good deal on a $300-suit,” Brumbaugh said.
Other than the itchy fiberglass beard, and the wardrobe changes to deal with going from a cold parade into a warm building, Brumbaugh gives a mostly positive account of his time as the big man.
“Sometimes I’ll wear the suit around town — like when the festival’s going on — I’ll wear it and drive around neighborhoods and wave to people,” he says. “It emits joyous feelings, and that’s the whole point of doing it for me.”
The Montesano Festival of Lights will be held Dec. 9-11.