Craig’s own Santa Claus delivers real Christmas spirit |

Craig’s own Santa Claus delivers real Christmas spirit

Arlea Pingley, 3, gives Santa a hug after sitting on his lap at Craig Fire/Rescue's annual Santa visit Tuesday. "That's the ones that really draw my heart strings, when they come up and do something like that," Santa said of the encounter. Santa kept a busy schedule this holiday season, making about 40 appearances to listen to the wish lists of Moffat County children and seniors.
Lauren Blair

— Santa and Mrs. Claus keep a pretty low profile most of the year, installing carpet during the off-months and biding their time until Christmas rolls around. But they are a presence that can’t be missed in Craig when the holidays arrive and Santa dons his suit of red and white.

One of Moffat County’s VIP couples, Mr. and Mrs. Claus have called Northwest Colorado home for nearly 20 years. The area bears a striking resemblance to the North Pole at times, thus the common misconception.

“I call this North Pole South,” Santa said. “I tell people usually it’s warmer here, but lately I think it’s warmer in the North Pole, so maybe I’ll go back!”

Known during the off-season by their aliases George and Ann Kidder, the Clauses found their way to Craig from Florida after falling in love with Western Colorado. With so much expertise in delivering packages — the two met while driving mail for the U.S. Postal Service in Orlando, Florida — they picked up contracts to haul mail for the U.S.P.S. between Glenwood Springs and Hayden as well as Glenwood Springs and Aspen.

“Everyone thinks these elves work for free,” Santa said. “But I have to work all summer to pay these elves!”

Santa’s ties with the postal service turned out to have another advantage, though, as mail carriers would ensure any local letters addressed to Santa landed on their doorstep. Santa’s late mother dutifully replied to them every year until she had to move back to Florida to live with Santa’s sister.

“She’d sit down for hours and hours,” Santa said. “She was actually a retired postmaster from Florida herself. We just had to keep her (stocked) in paper and envelopes.”

After 16 years of hauling mail night and day, the Clauses decided to scale back, focusing now on delivering Christmas cheer to the people of Moffat County, kids, grown-ups and seniors alike.

“I love Santa! I even went and had my picture taken with Santa this year,” said Lila Herod, Moffat County’s clerk and recorder. “He really has that twinkle in his eye. My granddaughter saw him this summer when he was doing some yard work at my neighbor’s house. I told her there’s lots of Santa’s helpers but the real Santa lives in Craig.”

Santa is used to seeing kids in the grocery store or around town when he’s off-duty; after all, he’s instantly recognizable by his long, white beard, bushy eyebrows and genuine Santa belly. Some kids even call him George during the off-season.

“I can be in City Market in street clothes in June and a kid will quietly say to his mom, ‘Hey Mom, that’s Santa,” he recounted. “It’s fun. I say, ‘See? You never know when I’m going to show up, that’s why you have to be good.’”

Santa means it, too. He’s even been known to give out coal on occasion, which is pretty easy to come by in these parts.

But deep down, Santa has a big heart for people. He gives of himself freely — literally, in fact. Whenever Santa makes an appearance during the holidays — which this year will add up to about 40 events, both public and private — he and Mrs. Claus ask simply that the recipients make a donation to a local nonprofit.

“We never took anything from the start,” Santa said. “For us, this was a way to kind of give back.”

Mrs. Claus accompanies Santa to some of his big events, but she also keeps busy behind the scenes, making his suits and changing out the fur trim at least twice a year on all of them. Happily married now for nearly 30 years, the pair say they rarely fight; when they’re out together, they bring a genuine tenderness and sincerity to their interactions with the community.

“He brings more of a reality to the Christmas season because he’s so authentic,” said John Forgay, a recently retired Craig Police Department investigator. “You can see it in the children’s eyes… It takes some special people to do that well.”

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.

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