Have you ever wondered what Santa Claus does in his spare time? It might surprise you to learn that he volunteers at the Falany Performing Arts Center (FPAC) at Reinhardt University. Ok, maybe Santa doesn’t really volunteer at the FPAC, but professional Santa Claus Richard Belote does.
Following three years of teaching math classes at Reinhardt, Belote was asked to join the FPAC’s Advisory Board in mid-2019. “I didn’t know what an advisory board did, but I said ‘Sure, I’ll do it,’” says Belote. “After retiring, I was looking for something to do, and the FPAC seemed like a worthwhile organization to belong to. I’ve always enjoyed music. When I was in college, I was in the Naval Academy glee club. We toured all over the country doing shows to recruit people for the academy, so it’s kind of always been in my blood.”
As a member of the Advisory Board, Belote is one of 14 community members and Reinhardt staff who volunteer their time and talents to the success of the FPAC. Each member has a function they oversee, from coordinating ushers to hosting First Timer's receptions, assisting with the Box Office, and more. They are also required to volunteer for specific events and be Patron Members of the FPAC.
Joining the advisory board was just the beginning for Belote. When Jessica Akers, executive director of the FPAC & Alumni, needed a Santa for the 2019 Christmas program, Belote volunteered. Turns out he’s a professional Santa.
“I have three boys,” says Belote, “and one year they challenged me to a beard-growing contest. When my beard started coming in, people would stop me and say ‘Hey Santa! I want a car for Christmas!’ About a month later, the magic suit showed up on my front doorstep. I’ve been Santa ever since.”
Belote says that the first year he was Santa, he did it without any training. Then he decided to attend Northern Lights Santa Academy. Northern Lights Santa Academy holds classes in the Atlanta area each fall and spring and is for anyone who works as a Christmas professional (Santa, Mrs. Claus, or even an elf). Classes cover a variety of topics from hair and beard care, Santa fashion, improv, working with special needs children, Santa history, business, and more.
In addition to the Northern Lights Santa Academy, Belote attended the International Santa Celebration 2022, which was held in Atlanta, and brought together Christmas professionals from all over the world. “The convention was a lot of fun,” says Belote. “You look around and everybody has a white beard and is wearing red and white. It’s kind of funny.”
Belote serves as Santa for events in Waleska and Canton. He says he loves the look on kids’ faces. “I just get such joy out of seeing their eyes light up.” During his first year as Santa, Belote experienced one interaction that he says kept him coming back. “A little boy was sitting on my lap and said, ‘I know you’re the real Santa.’ I asked, ‘How do you know that?’ He said, ‘Because you have white eyebrows, and all the others have dark eyebrows.’”
Since taking on the role of the FPAC Santa, hundreds of children and families have attended the annual Santa experience and showing of “The Polar Express.” “We could not do these events without Richard,” says Akers. “He’s the star of the show! Richard embodies what it means to be in the spirit of Christmas. Christmas is the season of giving, and Richard takes that seriously. He spends hours upon hours speaking with children, bringing joy to families, and even entertaining our volunteers.”
In addition to the Advisory Board and being the FPAC Santa Claus, Belote volunteers in the FPAC Box Office a couple of days a week. Belote’s work earned him the honor of the FPAC 2022 Volunteer of the Year. The award recognizes volunteers for their extraordinary time commitment, support, and dedication. Belote was also recognized for completing over 500 hours of volunteer service.
Santa Claus makes his annual visit to the FPAC this year on Dec. 11 for the Drive-Thru Santa Experience. Guests can drive to the front of the FPAC between noon and 4:30 p.m. to drop off their letters at the North Pole mailbox, visit Santa, take pictures, and grab a goodie bag. At 6 p.m., come back to watch “The Polar Express” in Flint Hall and make a Christmas craft. Both events are free, but tickets are required for each event.
Get tickets for the Drive-Thru Santa Experience at https://ci.ovationtix.com/35154/production/1136383.
Get tickets for “The Polar Express” at https://ci.ovationtix.com/35154/production/1113235.