During the holidays, city regulations prevent Santa from bringing his sleigh into Santa Barbara until Christmas Eve, so he parks it up in Santa Ynez. Instead, Mr. and Mrs. Claus drive their casual sleigh around town, a red Honda, of course.
Meanwhile, the reindeer stay at a local ranch, where they’re well taken care of. Back at the North Pole, 525 elves maintain toy production while Santa’s away.
At least, that’s the story Dave and Yvonne Bazinet tell.
On Saturday, the Bazinets appeared as Mr. and Mrs. Claus at Ensemble Theatre Company’s Tiny Tots Holiday Concert, one of many events featuring the Christmas couple this holiday season. Beginning just after Thanksgiving, the Bazinets throw on their Santa hats and sleigh bells five to 10 times before Christmas Day comes around.
“We’re busy all December long,” said Mr. Bazinet. “Adults love it just as much as the kids. For a little while, I get people to smile bigger than they have in a long time.”
Mr. Bazinet made his Santa debut at the Annual Parade of Lights 12 years ago, taking on the role at his wife’s request.
“I was working at the Maritime Museum at the time, who always provided a Santa for the parade, but he suddenly became unavailable,” said Ms. Bazinet. “I turned to Dave and realized I had one. He’s been doing it ever since.”
Stepping into Santa’s boots, Mr. Bazinet embraced the opportunity beard and all. Most of the year, Mr. Bazinet works as a hairdresser at the Pepper Tree Inn, so looking the part was all in a day’s work.
Sometimes, however, that commitment can get him into trouble.
“One girl, who was four or five years old, looked at my beard and asked if it was real,” said Mr. Bazinet. “I told her yes, but she grabbed it to make sure. Problem was she wouldn’t let go.”
Other kids are not as willing to get so close to Santa. That’s where Mrs. Claus comes in.
Five years ago, Ms. Bazinet decided to join her husband for the fun. While she had always been at his side, she wanted to be part of the process instead of watching it from afar. Turns out, that’s just what Mr. Bazinet needed.
“Sometimes, little ones panic when they see (Santa),” said Ms. Bazinet. “They aren’t as intimidated by me, so I take their hands. It calms them right down when there’s a mother figure around.”
While Mr. Bazinet asks kids if they’ve been naughty or nice, Ms. Bazinet is there to take pictures, manage crowds and hand out candy canes. Together, they greet hundreds throughout the community each year.
No matter how many are in line, Mr. Bazinet takes the time to listen to each kid he meets. Some ask for new toys while others want world peace, but they always keep Mr. Bazinet guessing. One request left him particularly in shock.
“I had one girl ask for a Bible once,” said Mr. Bazinet. “I asked her to repeat herself because I just couldn’t believe it.”
Adults make requests of Mr. Bazinet as well, often asking for pictures of their own or even stopping him on the street. After working an event at the Granada Theatre, Mr. Bazinet decided to get a hot chocolate at a Starbucks nearby, encountering more attention than he had expected.
“The entire Starbucks staff came running out,” said Mr. Bazinet. “They all wanted a picture or to sit in my lap. And I thought my appearance was over!”
Beyond parties and pictures, Mr. Bazinet takes the time to give back to his community, visiting local prisoners. As someone who had been in their position before, Mr. Bazinet feels there’s no better to reach out to them than himself.
“I spent a little time in jail 30 years ago, but I’m a whole new person now,” said Mr. Bazinet. “I get to show others like me that they can change, too. When I walk into the prison I holler, ‘Who’s been good this year?’ Everyone gets quiet, and I know they’re ready to listen.”
Above all else, that’s why the Bazinets do what they do – to take people away from whatever’s on their minds and enjoy a little bit of fun.
“In this day and age where everything seems to be going wrong, it’s just amazing that for one moment, they forget all their troubles,” said Ms. Bazinet. “We just want to bring joy. That’s what it’s all about.”