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Meet Danny: Man behind Santa’s beard

Liam Baker, son of Michael and Tara Baker, was one of many who got the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap during last Friday’s tree lighting festivities in Erwin. Santa gave each child a candy cane and stuffed animal as he wished them holiday cheer. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keith Whitson)
Liam Baker, son of Michael and Tara Baker, was one of many who got the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap during last Friday’s tree lighting festivities in Erwin. Santa gave each child a candy cane and stuffed animal as he wished them holiday cheer. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keith Whitson)

By Brad Hicks

The holiday season is a merry but also a very busy time of the year for Greene County native Danny Venerable.

For nearly 40 years, Venerable has donned the famous red suit with the white fur trim, the black boots, his stocking cap and, of course, a long white beard to portray Santa Claus in functions throughout the region.

And Venerable will be around to help a number of Unicoi Countians to get in the Christmas spirit. He portrayed jolly old Saint Nick in the Erwin Christmas Parade held Nov. 26. He again portrayed Kris Kringle in the town’s Christmas Tree-Lighting event on Friday, Dec. 2.

“I got started at a young age in it and I’m 55 now, and I’m still enjoying it,” Venerable said of playing Santa. “I’ve gone through three or four suits for two reasons – I’ve outgrown them and, also, I’ve wore them out.”

For Venerable, portraying Santa runs in his family, as his grandfather portrayed Saint Nicholas. It was 38 years ago during his senior year of high school that Venerable sought to take up the mantle. He said his parents were involved with a retail outlet, and Venerable asked if he could dress as Santa to help spread some holiday cheer.

“I told them I thought I might want to try that, then I did,” Venerable said, “and I just enjoyed it.”

Word spread, and Venerable soon found himself booked to play Santa Claus at events for churches, organizations, businesses and youth programs throughout the region. It was four years ago that Venerable’s services were sought by the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber needed a last-minute fill-in Santa for its annual Christmas Parade and contacted Venerable to see if he was available.

“I said, ‘It would be an honor. I’d love to have that opportunity,’” Venerable said.

Venerable’s Santa was a hit, as he has portrayed Santa in the Erwin Christmas Parade ever since. At his side is his wife, Elaine, who portrays Mrs. Claus.

“It’s a very enjoyable event, and I have been blessed that you all have asked us to come back over these years,” Venerable said.

And Venerable’s work is in high demand. He will again appear locally as the jolly man at the Breakfast with Santa event to be held at the Bramble on Saturday, Dec. 10. He also has multiple appearances scheduled throughout the region through the week before Christmas.

When he’s not making stops across the area as Santa, Venerable can be found at Grand Rental Station in Greeneville, the equipment rental business he co-owns and helped found in 2003.

Venerable said it is the joy his appearances bring children that leads him to break out his Santa suit this time of year and practice his “Ho, Ho, Hos.”

“To see the smiles and the glitter sparkling in the children’s eyes and the joy it can bring them, I enjoy that,” he said.

And Venerable said he’s picked up a few things in his years playing Kris Kringle, like anticipating which children may try and pull his beard. Venerable said he has heard the Christmas wishes of the children of those he went to school with, adding that these same folks are now bringing their grandchildren to see him.

“I could remember, ‘their daughter was sitting on my lap,’ or, ‘their son was sitting on my lap,’” Venerable said.

Because he is unaware of what each child’s home situation is like, Venerable said he imparts a single, all-encompassing message to each child he meets.

“I try to stress as long as they believe in Santa, good things will still happen,” he said.

With another Erwin Christmas Parade and Tree-Lighting in the books, Venerable said he is looking forward to returning to Unicoi County later this week to help brighten the holidays for local youth.

“It’s been a very enjoyable ride, and we want to keep the ride going,” he said, “and we want to thank the town of Erwin for giving us the opportunity.”