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‘When you’re Santa, you’re Santa’ — Local RN is professional St. Nick

Kim Bridge still believes in Santa Claus.

Kim Bridge is Santa Claus.

The 65-year-old registered nurse and community education coordinator for King’s Daughters Medical Center has the red suits; the old-world wooly, white beard; the belts and buckles and boots and the “ho, ho, ho” from the bottom of his gut that make him, for a few weeks every December, Brookhaven’s own Saint Nicholas. He’s even been to school for it — he’s a 2018 graduate of the Professional Santa Claus School, available for hire for parades, parties and photo sessions.

But it’s Christmas spirit, not cash, that turns Bridge into Kris Kringle.

“I just love the smiles on people’s faces. It makes it all worth while,” he said. “Seeing the responses you get from people, to see the smiles on the faces of children and adults, to see their eyes light up. They have no idea who I am — it’s Santa they see.”

Bridge’s Christmas calendar is already filling up. He’s scheduled to get in character as Father Christmas for the annual Brookhaven Christmas parade Nov. 29, booked for two nursing home parties, a fundraiser for Heritage Hills orphanage hosted by 601 Sports, the Junior Auxiliary’s Cookies and Milk with Santa event and an appearance at the Mississippi School of the Arts.

These hours-long appearances, in which Bridge never breaks character, started out years ago as a 10-second dash across a dark back yard.

“I started out like everybody else — I bought a cheap Santa suit for $25 and a fake beard, just for my kids,” he said. “Tyler and Nick were 9 and 5, I believe. My wife, Cathy, would tell the boys, ‘I think I hear Santa,’ and they’d look out the window and I’d run across the back yard in my suit. It was just a dad thing, something special for my boys.”

The Bridges still do the “dad thing” — Tyler Bridge is 40 and still believes in Santa Claus, his father said — and now it’s a granddad thing, with three little Bridges who are believers.

And, over the years, the Santa act has expanded outside of the Bridge home. Word began getting out years ago that Bridge played a pretty good Santa — people knew he had a suit, he said — so he started accepting invitations to Christmas parties here and there, and a few family get-togethers, where he helped with distributing gifts.

As Bridge’s reputation grew, he put more into the act. He spent $600 on extra Santa suits, “with more bling,” he said, and a new belt, buckle and boots. He used to wear fake beards because his real beard grew in red, but now his scratchy face-mane is white as the North Pole.

“My wife wants the beard to go away. It normally goes away Christmas morning, but I don’t know if I’m gonna do that this year,” he said. “She hates waking up next to Santa.”

Bridge had always wanted to attend Professional Santa Claus School in Denver, Colorado, but never could bring himself to drop the cash on the trip. But the institution took its show on the road in 2018, touring all around the nation, and Bridge attended the two-day course in Memphis, Tennessee, back in August.

The classes taught around 30 deep-South Santas essential professional St. Nick techniques, like proper makeup and beards, contracts, insurance and background checks. Since passing the course, Bridge has incorporated his side job as 601 Santa, and he’s taking gigs this season.

But the best gigs don’t pay.

Bridge visits local nursing homes as Santa and, on Christmas Eve, goes door-to-door at KDMC, in full costume, meeting every patient who couldn’t be home for the holidays. He sits with them, holds their hand, talks a while, brings candy and lets them know someone cares.

“They can’t go home. They can’t be there. I just let them know Santa hasn’t forgotten them for Christmas. It’s special,” Bridge said, wiping his eyes. “In the nursing homes, you have some patients who are battling Alzheimer’s and dementia, and they may not be able to remember their own families. But everyone remembers Santa.

“It’s just a way I can give back. That’s all,” he continued. “Christmas has always been special to our family. The Lord has blessed us in so many ways, and being Santa allows me to pass it on. The Lord has a plan — you can’t question it, you gotta go with it. It’s just a little ministry.”

Bridge said he plans on putting in at least one more year at KDMC, and he wants to elevate his Santa game in retirement. There is such a thing as Christmas in July, he said.

“When I first started doing this, I was at a gathering at McLane Southern, and a kid came up to me and said, ‘You’re not the real Santa.’ I said, ‘Well, how do you know that?’” Bridge said. “He told me, ‘I heard you laughing, and you laughed normal. You didn’t say, ho, ho, ho.’ That’s something I learned. When you’re in the suit, you gotta stay in character. When you’re Santa, you’re Santa.”