Story

Emerald Coast Santa Heads North For Christmas

December 9, 2011 by Gwen Break

For many of the locals used to seeing James “Jim” Herbermann as Santa, it will be a lump of coal this year.

Jim has been the Santa for Seaside, Alys Beach, Sacred Heart and other notable venues in the area since the Herbermanns moved to the area nine years ago. He has been a professional Santa for more than 37 years. He is the Emerald Coast Santa.
 

This year, however, Jim and his wife Shelia are the Mr. and Mrs. Claus at the Danbury, Ct. shopping mall, an opportunity Shelia Herbermann said they “just couldn’t pass up.”

At age 66 and standing about 5’7”, Jim has just enough soft spots to not need any padding. He is most always sporting a red and green holiday shirt and matching red sneakers. His long hair curlicues under the ever-present cap he wears – different ones for different occasions. But it’s the long, curly, white beard that makes everyone stop and stare.

Jim looks like Santa on vacation, down to the mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

“People on the beach stop me and ask to have their picture taken,” said Jim. “They know who I am.”

Jim started his Santa career 40 years ago when a neighbor in Lilburn, Ga., asked him to play Santa at a children’s party. After that Jim says he was hooked. At first he used rented suits and dyed his hair. He grew his beard and finally Mother Nature finally eliminated the need for the dye.

“Old people will come up and pull on it,” said Jim with a laugh and just a hint of pride.
He is a long standing member of FORBS, the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas.

He also belongs to the Palm Tree Santa Drill Team, “dedicated to honoring military families as we provide help and entertainment to those in need,” (www.ptsantasdrillteam.com), along with a number of other professional and social Santa-related groups.

He works retail and private venues during the holiday but he also does a number of charitable appearances at nursing homes, schools, hospitals and other functions. He said it is the children’s hospital, the hospice ward, when he works for Santa America, that touches his heart most.

When a child says all he wants is to live until Christmas or want to get his braces off, it makes a mark on his heart, Jim explains.

Herbermann retired from ATT/Lucent after 28 years of perfect attendance. His wife retired from Sacred Heart on the Emerald Coast Oct. 28 and plans to join Jim full-time as Mrs. Claus. She has attended a number of the professional training sessions with Jim over the years. My question was, “Who knew there were training schools for Santa!”

“Oh, there are several. I’ve attended probably 20 or 30,” said. He said now they cruise. “We’re going to Hawaii in April.”

The schools teach dress, make-up, ethical considerations, mannerisms and other Santa-like behavior and modeling.

“You have to reach out with your voice,” said Jim. “We want to see every person I talk to with a smile on their face.”

He estimates he sees at least 5,000 children each holiday season. This year he expects to see even more. The hours are long – 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and then 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday from the day after Thanksgiving until Dec. 24 – but he says the rewards are incalculable.

“I love it,” he says with enthusiasm.

Jim is among one of reportedly four professional Santas on the Emerald Coast but he is the only Emerald Coast Santa, “Clauses for a cause”. He is one of those people who wants you “to keep that twinkle in your eye.”

It doesn’t matter what you do or do not believe about Christmas. There’s no question, Jim Herbermann is the real deal, from the red paten leather tennis shoes, to the red golfer’s cap. If you see him in Publix, you instantly know, “Hey, that’s Santa Claus!”

Post Script
Shelia Herbermann, Mrs. Claus, said she and Jim left the Emerald Coast and arrived on the East Coast about the same time the nor’easter did that brought more than a foot of snow to the Northeast and left almost a million people without power.

“We’ve been staying in the car for two days,” she said with a laugh. Stranded because of the heavy snowfall, the couple has been at a Red Cross Shelter. Their daughter, who lives about 15 miles from the Danbury Mall, is without power and water.

She said it has been an adventure but the kids at the shelter are enjoying spending time with “Santa.” “Everything works out for a reason,” she says, gratitude and joy, the true spirit of Christmas, in her voice.

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Gwen Break

Gwen Break loves to write and she loves to keep up with almost everyone and almost everything going on in South Walton.

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