When Wallace Cady of Towanda first put on a Santa suit in 1993, he never imagined he’d one day listen to kids’ Christmas lists over the internet.
“I’ve visited with tons of kids over the years, but this year will be different,” he said. “No mall visits, no sitting on laps.”
“Santa Wally” is one of 100 Santas around the world and six in Pennsylvania participating in “How to Save Christmas,” founded this year to help kids have a bright holiday despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Started by two artists living in Florida, the organization recruited 100 of the top Santas around the world to take Zoom calls with kids online, as opposed to visiting him in person. Cady said he was the 18th Santa to get the call.
“When Santa Cliff called me Sept. 2 and asked if I would do this, I didn’t hesitate,” he said.
Cady said Cliff Snider of North Carolina, a longtime friend, was recognized as one of the most famous Santas in the world by the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame in Santa Claus, Indiana. He shared the honor in 2012 with the late Mickey Rooney, who was inducted for his voice acting as Santa in several classic stop-action films in the 1960s and 70s.
Like Snider and Rooney, Cady has made his mark as a professional Santa. In 2003, he received his bachelor’s degree of Santa from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Michigan and has since earned his master’s and doctorate in Santagology. He’s attended Santa conventions and parades around the world, including taking classes on a Caribbean cruise ship. He’s listened to kids’ Christmas lists at malls everywhere from Wilkes Barre to Florida. But Cady hasn’t just learned how to “Ho, ho ho” with the best of them.
“I’m a performing Santa,” he said of what to expect on a Zoom call with him. “I do magic and always have Rudy, Rudolph’s cousin, by my side.”
Rudy is a reindeer ventriloquist puppet with a red nose, but it doesn’t light up because, “Rudy doesn’t help Santa with delivering presents, so it doesn’t have to shine like Rudolph’s.”
Cady first learned ventriloquism online and adopted Rudy at the 2012 Vent Haven International Ventriloquist Convention in Kentucky, where each year, television comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham teaches his craft.
Rudy helps Cady keep pesky elves in line, who he said break a lot of candy canes. Part of his magic act is making a crushed candy cane whole again, but it doesn’t work unless kids help by wiggling their fingers and toes and saying the magic words.
During the Zoom calls, taken in front of a Christmas-themed backdrop at his cabin home in Towanda, Cady displays bells from Santa’s sleigh and a decorated tree straight from the North Pole.
“Santa lives at the North Pole so that kids can’t find him,” he explained. “That’s too far for them to go looking for him.”
Cady should know as much about Santa as he does; he’s been playing the legendary figure for more than 25 years. It started in 1993, when he was asked to don the red fur-trimmed suit for kids at a Jaycees Christmas Eve party in Towanda. Cady said he had so much fun playing Santa that night, he continued the party in the streets.
“At about 10 p.m. Christmas Eve, I stood in front of the old J.J. Newberry store in Towanda waving to cars,” he said. “It was fun.”
That happened to be the year before the movie “The Santa Clause” with Tim Allen premiered in theaters. Cady said, “When the movie came out in the local theater, I stood outside in the suit and handed out the same cards that were in Santa’s pocket in the movie to the kids.”
On the front, the cards read, “Santa Clause – North Pole,” with instructions on the back: “If something should happen to me, put on my suit. The reindeer will know what to do.”
Just as in the movie, putting on the suit for the first time launched Cady into a full-blown career as Santa. However, to his own family – his wife, two daughters, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren – he’s known as one of Santa’s many similarly dressed helpers.
Cady said he’s honored to be part of How to Save Christmas, through which he and other Santas will provide Zoom calls to kids spending Christmas in hospitals and their families free of charge. He added the calls will allow the Christmas magic to continue. And, they’ll be more personal than normal visits with Santa.
“When you schedule a call, you fill out a questionnaire with things like the child’s interests, their favorite cookie, their pet’s name if they have one. That’s the real magic, when I know these things. It says to the kids that Santa’s watching,” said Cady. “But we have no bad kids, only good ones. Ho, ho, ho!”
To schedule a 15-minute Zoom call with Cady, visit www.howtosavechristmas.com/santas/p/santa-hnm4w?rq=pennsylvania or search “Wallace Cady” from the main How to Save Christmas website. Group calls, personalized letters to kids and digitally created photos of kids or families with Santa are also available.