If you’re out and about in Dawson County around Christmas time, you might see a red T-Top Camaro driving down the road and not look twice. But in a county filled with vintage cars, this one is special; it’s the official ride for Dawson County’s very own professional Santa Claus, Santa Andy.
Santa Andy wasn’t always Santa Claus. Before he put on the big red suit, combed out his beard and jumped into his high horsepower sleigh, he was just Andy the mailman. But even then, he was well on his way to becoming Santa, due to a pact he made with his brother Randy, back when they were teenagers.
“We were Randy and Andy; we were a year and a half apart and our dad was military so we were always best friends,” Santa Andy said. “This is fulfilling the promise that my brother and I had when we were like 18 and 19 that whichever one of us passed first, the other would celebrate his life by doing something with children.”
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Randy passed away in Dec. 2014, Santa Andy said, and right before his brother’s funeral, a long time coworker asked him if he would be willing to play Santa at a church event, and he knew it was meant to be.
“I was a mailman for 15 years, and in 2014 Rodney, who I worked with, asked me if I knew anybody who could be a Santa at church,” Santa Andy said. “So I said ‘you’re not thinking about me are you?’, and he said yeah so I told him I’d think about it. My brother had died like two weeks earlier and I remembered the promise we had, so I said yeah I’ll do it.”
Amanda, Santa Andy’s wife, says that from the moment her husband put on the Santa suit for the first time, he knew had found the right way of fulfilling the pact with his brother.
“From the first moment when people saw him as Santa, he said ‘there’s no feeling like it’ and he knew that Randy was right there laughing with him,” Amanda said.
But to truly become the Santa he is today, Santa Andy said he got a little help along the way.
“When we moved to Dawsonville, I met a guy at church who was a professional Santa, Santa Peter, and I met him every week to pick up bread to hand out to people,” Santa Andy said. “We’d sit there and talk for an hour before we’d go do what we needed to, and he was teaching me this whole time, and I had no idea what he was up to.”
Sadly, Santa Peter passed away just a few months after Randy did, and left all of his Santa clothing and boots to Santa Andy.
Now, 6 years later, Santa Andy still heads out every Christmas season to honor both Randy and Peter.
According to Santa Andy, a lot more goes into being a professional Santa Claus than meets the eye. One of the things that makes Santa Andy unique is that he does through research beforehand, so he knows exactly what to say to each child he meets.
“I call the parents before I go to somebody’s house and get information on what the kids and I need to talk about and find out if there’s an elf on the shelf and what its name is, and then I’ll tell the kids how I was talking to the elf,” Santa Andy said. “The elves on the shelf are a big support for me, so I’m able to keep in touch with the kids through that. And usually when I leave I’ll tell the kids that I’m glad it’s not as bad as the elf said.”
Santa Andy personalizes each visit to the specific child and takes the time to talk to each in depth.
“I tell the kids to do the best they can do,” Santa Andy said. "I talk about their schooling and their rooms being cleaned up, and I’ll even go so far as to say things like ‘who’s leaving the wet towels on the floor’ and usually somebody will own up to it.”
Since 2014, Santa Andy has gained quite a reputation around Dawson County, where he has lived for over 20 years. He says he has even gotten offers to fly to other states to be Santa there.
This year, the coronavirus has slowed down the number of events he has been able to attend as Santa, but he has made the most out of what he has been able to do.
“It’s crazy — I saw 1600 kids last year,” Santa Andy said. “Because of the virus I’m not seeing as many kids but I am doing a lot more trips and in-home visits.”
Another way he has been able to visit children has been through neighborhood drive-throughs. With his wife driving, Santa Andy removes the passenger side roof of his Camaro and leans out, waving and greeting children as he goes past.
One of the ways he has responded to the coronavirus has been to make sure he’s still interacting with the children face-to-face, rather than virtually or at a distance.
“We’re doing the temperature checks and everything to be safe and those that wish to wear a mask can wear a mask, but I’m not wearing a mask and you can sit on my lap or my knee or whatever you want to do,” Santa Andy said. “I want the kids where I can actually talk to them and have them there.”
One of the most important things to Santa Andy is to keep his focus on the meaning behind his business: making sure he keeps everything all about the kids.
“Being a professional Santa is an industry, so if you wanna make a lot of money you can, but I wanna make it affordable, so I charge less. Cause I’d rather do something for the kids,” He said. “It’s all about the magic of the holiday and joy that it brings is amazing; you can’t put a dollar amount on the light in the kids’ eyes.”
Amanda, who acts as her husband’s scheduler, manager and driver, said that anywhere she and Santa Andy go, children are overjoyed to see Santa Claus. According to both Amanda and Santa Andy, this joy is a reward in itself.
“A couple weeks ago we were coming back from a gig and stopped to get gas so I went in to pay and when I came back out the people in the car at the pump next to us were asking if they could get photos with Santa,” Amanda said. “It’s not about the money, it’s about sharing the magic of Christmas, and we all know that magic comes from Jesus.”
You can find out more about Santa Andy and how to visit with him yourself at https://santa-andy.com/.