Santa Claus Hall of Fame honors High Point's Cliff Snider
Fifty years after Cliff Snider first began portraying Santa Claus, the 65-year-old High Point man has just been given the Christmas gift of a lifetime — induction into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.
Appropriately located in Santa Claus, Ind., the Hall of Fame will host a brief ceremony this morning to announce six new inductees, including Snider, into its prestigious ranks.
“I’m honored and yet humbled,” said Snider, who will become the first North Carolinian to be inducted. “I could name a dozen Santas I know who are more qualified than I am. And then I look at the status of the other people who’ve already been inducted, and it’s such an honor to be among them.”
Snider will be formally recognized as a new inductee in March, during an annual Santa Claus workshop that takes place in Santa Claus, Ind.
Previous inductees include the likes of Charles W. Howard, founder of the world-famous Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, and Edmund Gwenn, who won an Oscar in 1947 for his portrayal of Kris Kringle in “Miracle on 34th Street.”
This year’s class of inductees also includes beloved actor Mickey Rooney — who played Santa Claus in the animated Christmas classics “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” and “The Year Without A Santa Claus” — but most inductees are men like Snider, who embody the Santa persona throughout the year in communities across the country.
Snider, who was nominated by a group of his peers, is being recognized not only for his longevity as jolly ol’ St. Nicholas, but also for his emphasis on the spiritual side of Christmas. He often promises to pray for children he meets, and sometimes he even prays with them as they sit in his lap.
“Cliff has a very strong conviction for keeping Christ in Christmas,” said fellow Santa Phil Wenz, a Hall of Fame spokesman (and previous inductee). “He understands the true meaning of Christmas, and Santa is just a vehicle for him to bring that peace, love and joy. And it always comes from his heart — he’s really kept his conviction to keeping the true message of Christmas in his Santa performance.”
Snider’s faith-based approach to playing Santa even got him featured in Guideposts, a Christian magazine, and on the Christian television program “The 700 Club.”
“That’s really what I’m all about, or try to be,” Snider said, “so it means an awful lot to me to be recognized for that.”
Snider first portrayed Santa Claus in 1962, when his church youth group called on the shy, overweight 15-year-old to dress up as Santa at a local mission. Snider had been depressed over the recent death of his father, but the experience of playing Santa transformed him.
“There was something about the Santa persona — putting on a wig and a beard — that sort of disguised who I really was and enabled me to try to be the friendly, jolly person I wanted to be,” Snider explained in a 2004 article in the High Point Enterprise.
“I really believe that what was almost a joke — picking the fattest boy in the class to be Santa — was God’s way of saying, ‘This is something you can do to bring joy to other people’s lives. And I really feel like it was an opportunity for me to get over some of the sadness that was in my heart from losing my dad.”
Since then, Snider has embraced the role of Santa so wholeheartedly that he stopped shaving in 1972, explaining that he had grown tired of kids yanking on his fake beard. He has several Santa costumes, business cards that picture him as Santa, his own website (www.cliffkringle.com), a sleigh driver’s license and a vanity license plate that reads “C U 12-24.”
He has reigned as the official Santa of the High Point Holiday Festival Parade since 2001 and has made countless appearances at public and private Christmas events throughout the Triad. He has modeled for several artists’ Santa Claus paintings and has even written a book about his 50 years of wearing the red suit.
Even now, after all these years, Snider says he finds portraying Santa more fulfilling than ever.
“Maybe I’m just a big kid at heart,” he says, “and I think the world needs that more now than ever.”
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The International Santa Claus Hall of Fame exhibit is located inside the historic Santa’s Candy Castle in Santa Claus, Ind.
For more information, visit www.santaclaushall.com.