The Spirit of Santa
He may not be the real deal, but Stephen Bonner knows that playing the role of St. Nick is a great responsibility
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Taking on the role of Santa Claus is a big responsibility, but not one without its rewards, according to Stephen Bonner, who has portrayed Old St. Nick throughout the community for more than two decades. "The smiles on children's faces and the happiness Santa brings to others is a gift to myself," he explained. "Being Santa makes me a better person."
Staff Photo by Patti Sells

Dec. 24, 2006 - For more than 20 years, Stephen Bonner has donned a white beard and Santa Claus suit in a mission to keep the magic of Christmas alive in the hearts and minds of children throughout Hopkins County.

"Christmas is a fantasy in the mind of a child," said Bonner, a special education teacher at Cooper Junior High School. "It's a fanciful time, mind expanding. They're thinking about the North Pole, and how even without a chimney, Santa finds a way. It's all done by magic."

It is a time of wonder and excitement, according to Bonner, which is as it should be.

As Santa Claus, he said, he enjoys keeping youngsters' imaginations going, talking about reindeer, elves, and, especially, his best friend, Frosty The Snowman.

"I'll tell them how Frosty is jealous because I get to go around and visit all the good little boys and girls, and all he gets to do is stand in their yards," he said, laughing.

Bonner fondly recalls many of his own Christmas memories when he was a child growing up in Sulphur Springs.

"I was blessed to have so many wonderful Christmases," said Bonner, who lives only a few blocks from his childhood home. "I remember looking for reindeer in the sky and trying to sneak a peek out the window. We'd leave milk and cookies, and they would always be gone in the morning. I could just imagine Santa sitting in our living room floor taking the time to put things together and set things out."

According to Bonner, the spirit of Santa Claus demonstrates the Christian faith. 

"I try to show kids the love of Christ," he said. "I take time with each child, look them in the eye, call them by name, and let them know they are important. I always tell them Santa loves them. I'm not sure that kids hear that very much (that they are loved)." 

Working so closely with students in his everyday life, Bonner knows the many difficult pressures children face each day.

"There is so much kids today have to deal with," explained Bonner, who says he has always had an affinity for children. "Broken homes — the world is so complicated. I want to bring as much happiness to kids as I can."

However, Bonner said, as Santa, he is careful not to make empty promises.

"I might get one who wants his Daddy back or his family back together," Bonner gave as examples. "I always tell them that is a wonderful thing to ask for, and I'll see what I can do."

Bonner expressed that even though it is sad to see children in situations such as that, it makes him feel good to know that even at a young age, children care about what is truly important in life.

"Lots of times they don't ask for anything for themselves. They ask for something for someone else," he explained. 

More than giving, Christmas is a time of goodness, according to Bonner, who makes Santa visits to people in the hospital, nursing homes, family gatherings and Child Protective Service festivities.

"The spirit of Christmas needs to be carried on," said Bonner, referring to the awe and wonder of it all. "If someone were to ask me today if I believe in Santa Claus the answer would be, 'Yes, I do.' Santa is a spirit of goodness and giving. You may not ever really see Santa Claus, but we see the evidence of him through the Christmas spirit."

According to Bonner, Christmas is truly a magical time. The red suit itself has a power all its own.

"There have been times when I come home after a long day at school and I'm tired and feel like I don't have the energy to play Santa," he admitted. "But when I put on that red suit, something happens. I don't really know what it is. When you put it on you realize you're representing something so much larger than yourself. It's a responsibility. I have a responsibility to meet every child's expectation of Santa Claus. That makes me want to be my best for every child I meet. Children are just in awe of him, and I think it's important to keep that alive in the life of every child."

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