Santa Claus has become such a popular figure at the gingerbread village competition that he has his own UMMC ID badge.
Santa Claus has become such a popular figure at the gingerbread village competition that he has his own UMMC ID badge.
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People of the U: Santa Claus

Published on Monday, December 9, 2019

By: Bruce Coleman

There are things everyone knows about Santa Claus:

     •  He boasts a fluffy white beard and wears a lot of red.

     •  He lives at the North Pole with his wife, several reindeer and countless little people.

     •  He’s in charge of the largest, if not the most lucrative, toy-making business on the planet.

     •  He has an affinity for cookies and milk.

Then there are the things very few people know about “jolly ol’ Saint Nick:”

     •  Bicycling is his preferred method of staying in shape.

     •  His biggest Christmas Eve challenge comes when Google Maps quits working.

     •  Instead of listening to Christmas carols – and who doesn’t get a little tired of them at some point during the holiday season? – he blasts Peter Frampton while making his deliveries.

     •  And each year he visits the Medical Center to announce the winners of UMMC’s gingerbread village competition. (This year’s event is slated for 11 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 12, in the University Hospital atrium.)

“UMMC wanted to do something special for their employees, so they dropped me a text message to see if I could share a little holiday spirit with them,” Claus said during a recent Skype conversation. “I also have a professional relationship with the Medical Center. I’ve recently had the need to see a cardiologist at UMMC, who told me to continue to exercise and try to make sure I keep my weight down.”

To stay fit, Santa Claus rides a bicycle to his pre-Christmas Eve appearances, including the UMMC Gingerbread Village Competition.
To stay fit, Claus rides a bicycle to his pre-Christmas Eve appearances, including UMMC's gingerbread village competition.

To that end, Claus has become an avid cyclist. He even shows up to the gingerbread village competition on his favorite bicycle.

“Riding has proven to be challenging, wearing boots and a red suit,” he said. “And I’m not in good enough shape yet to cover extreme distances, so I have friends in the delivery business who take me part of the way from the North Pole and then I travel across the U.S. with my bicycle.

“I make multiple appearances – I start early, before Christmas, while the elves are working away on all the gifts to be given away on Christmas Eve.”

The most requested gift by UMMC employees and students?

“You have the outliers who would like a Ferrari or Lamborghini,” he said. “But I explain that even Santa has a budget. Overwhelmingly, folks at UMMC ask for good health for all of their fellow Mississippians.

“That actually seems to be a theme with them.”

Claus admitted his knowledge of the Medical Center wasn’t limited to the clinical side of the institution. He said he was so impressed with the academic quality of Mississippi’s foremost health sciences center that a few years back, he sent one of his elves to attend the School of Nursing.

“We needed to make sure Mrs. Claus and I – along with all of our elf friends – can receive appropriate medical treatment when needed,” he said, “So we paid for her to attend the school.”

How was she able to evade the notice of her classmates and instructors?

“A little makeup and a lot of magic,” Claus said.

Santa Claus examines details on a gingerbread house during the 2018 Gingerbread Village Competition.

Claus examines details on a gingerbread house during the 2018 gingerbread village competition.

Claus said he’s also aware of the Medical Center’s “fantastic” research enterprise. In collaboration with the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, researchers in the Department of Physiology at UMMC are investigating how reindeer can be properly cared for in stressful environments.

Claus said his favorite part about visiting UMMC and interacting with faculty, staff and students is their initial reaction.

“It’s fun to engage with people when they’re not sure who you are,” he said. “It freaks people out when I call them by name. That has been one of the joys – When I know who they are and where they work, they look at me like, ‘How do you know that?’

“Why wouldn’t I know that? I’m Santa Claus!”

Although he admits to getting up there in years, Claus credits his wife for helping him stay focused and rested for his annual nocturnal escapade.

“I couldn’t do what I do without her support,” he said. “Mrs. Claus is a wonderful woman.”

But what most attracts him to the Medical Center – the single factor that keeps him returning to the gingerbread competition each year – is a similarity of purpose.

“I enjoy spreading cheer,” he said. “My mission is to try to give a little happiness to all Americans and to everyone throughout the world. UMMC’s mission is to take care of and improve the health of everyone in Mississippi.

“In that way, our missions coincide.”