Around Christmastime, Santas of all shapes and sizes wake from their jolly slumber to make appearances at malls, community events and parties.
Wichita’s Mike Dowell, 57, is one of these local Santas. However, Dowell takes his seasonal position a little more serious than some.
Dowell and his wife of 21 years, Pat, make more than 60 appearances as Santa and his head elf over the holiday season. This year, they’ve crafted a giant sleigh to bring along with them.
The Dowell’s four children and a few of their grandchildren helped to create the life-size wooden red sleigh in their backyard over the course of four weeks, Mike Dowell said. The sleigh made its debut Saturday at the Girl Scout’s Council.
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“It’s attached to a trailer, so we can pull it,” he said.
The Dowells have been dressing up for the holidays for more than 10 years, Pat Dowell said. It started with Pat dressing up as an elf for her job at the post office. Around that time, Mike, who has a genuine bushy white beard and long curly hair, said people started telling him he looked like Santa.
The Dowells decided they’d make dressing up their holiday tradition, starting by making visits to houses of families in need.
“There was actually a year where we knew of some children that were going to have no Christmas,” Pat Dowell said. “There father had passed away about a week before Christmas and their mom had no money. So, we went to the Dollar Store and bought some toys and took it to them so that they would have a Christmas.”
Pat Dowell said things snowballed from there, and now they make appearances for places like the Wichita Children’s Home, battered women’s shelters and other community organizations.
They also sit outside near their neighbor’s well-decorated yard and let people in the community take photos.
“If you go to the mall, you have to pay for their pictures. You can’t take your own pictures,” Pat Dowell said. “So, we sit out there in front of all their pretty lights and let people come and take pictures with Santa.”
The Dowells said a big reason they’ve continued their dress-up over the years is because it never feels like a chore.
“We have so many people say, ‘What do you charge?’ Well, if we charged, it would be a job,” Pat Dowell said. “And I have a job. I don’t want another one.”
Mike Dowell also said doing it for free helps everyone enjoy it more.
“There’s a lot of Santas out here and it’s a job for them. They’ve got to get paid to do it, otherwise they don’t want to do it,” he said. “And it makes a lot of difference.”
When Santa’s head elf can’t make it to his appearances, Mike’s granddaughter Serenity and her friend Tori fill in as back-up elves.
Serenity, 11, said her favorite part of having a grandpa that’s also Santa is being able to help him out.
“I like seeing the kids being excited about Christmas and seeing them be excited that he’s there,” she said.
Mike Dowell said his following has grown so large that he keeps the beard and hair year-round.
“There’s a lot of little kids that know me and they think I’m Santa all year,” he said.
If it were up to the Dowells, it’d stay that way forever.
“We’ll probably do this until we die,” Mike Dowell said. “It’s a lot of fun.”