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Richardson likes role of part-time Kris Kringle

While Santa Claus himself may do all his flying on ChristmasEve, many of his helpers do all their travel in the weeks leadingup to everybody’s favorite holiday.

John Richardson is one of those helpers.

Richardson, 75, has played Santa for several years now. And likethe real St. Nick, he’s not one to let distance stop him.

“I went to Amite, La., the other day to the First BaptistChurch,” he said.

In the same week, he also went as far as Jackson and Meadville.Sometimes he drives, but sometimes hegoes by plane, depending onthe distance.

Richardson said in all his travels around the state – and inneighboring ones as well – listening to holiday wishes and bringingChristmas cheer is all part of the fun of the job, which heconsiders more a ministry than work.

“It’s a ministry for me,” he said. “I really love meeting thechildren and making them happy. That’s the best part I do.”

Richardson has played Santa in everything from parades to drugstores to churches and even at the Brookhaven Municipal Airport -proof to airport manager Clifford Britt that Santa Claus reallydoes fly. Richardson said he never asks for restitution for hisappearances because he enjoys spreading the holiday spirit.

“Sometimes they pay me if it’s a particularly long trip,” hesaid. “But I usually do it for charity. If they give me money, Igive it right back to them for charity.”

He does photo gigs at Wal-Marts, and he said he always enjoysthat. Plus, as Santa’s helper, Richardson said he has some veryspecific job descriptions.

“I watch little boys and girls to make sure they’re good beforeSanta comes,” he said. “But kids just love to be around SantaClaus, that’s all.”

Parents enjoy visits to and from Santa as well, Richardson said.Sometimes he gets extra feedback from parents who have had previousfrustrating experiences with Santa and his helpers.

“It’s good, especially when a child gets in my lap and doesn’tcry and the parents say that’s the first time they’ve ever donethat,” he said. “I think it’s because I have a lot ofgrandchildren. And I’ve just never had any problem at all withparents.”

It could have been a childhood experience that taught Richardsonthe joy of giving at Christmas time, he said. When he was about 6years old and his family didn’t have much, he learned about thegift of giving.

“My daddy took us to town where they were giving away footballsfor boys and dolls for girls, so I got a football and my twosisters each got a doll,” he said. “We knew a family that didn’thave anything, so we went out to their house and gave them thatfootball and those dolls. That was the best part of that Christmasfor me – making them happy.”

And it is that feeling that makes Christmas worthwhile not justthat year, but every year, Richardson said.

“I love to give, I really do. I don’t care about gettinganything myself,” he said. “My wife asks me what I want, and I justsay, ‘Forget it, I don’t need anything.’ I just like to give.”

At Christmas time, too, kids say the darnedest things, likeasking Santa for gifts that could even be beyond his infinitebudget.

“The things they ask for are funny,” he said. “Four-wheelers andlaptops and things like that.”

After all the children who wanted high-dollar gifts andelaborate set-ups one year, it was a very simple request that stoodout as unique to him.

“There was one little boy who stands out. He just wanted abaseball bat,” he said. “That’s all, just a baseball bat.”

Richardson said he was lucky to have a very difficult requestalready easily answered one time too. It was a little girl whoasked for a baby sister.

“I looked at her mother, who I believe was expecting already,and smiled real big,” he said. “The mother nodded, like ‘It’s onits way.’ I don’t think it made it in time for Christmas, but thatlittle girl got her wish.”