Tom Frazier, Western Carolina University’s printing services manager, takes on a special role during the holiday season.
He plays Santa Claus in WCU’s “Sounds of the Season” concert, having made his 20th appearance in last Sunday’s performance at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, leading the audience in a sing-along to close the program; and across campus, showing up at A.K. Hinds University Center and making the rounds through freshman residence halls accompanied by residential assistants. He also appears off campus at the Dillsboro Festival of Lights and Luminaries for eager children to sit on his lap, at Harris Regional Hospital and at local assisted living facilities, alongside children carolers.
The special appearances by the Jolly Old Elf, also known as Kris Kringle, are always a crowd pleaser. Frazier relishes the role. “It helps lighten the mood at a stressful time and adds a bit of fun,” he said. “Maybe Santa’s not just for children, but for any age. At a time when people are stressed, if you can ease those worries for even a moment, with a guy in a Santa suit standing at your door handing you a candy cane, then it is something good. The levity helps as we face the end of semester, the end of the year, the holidays and everything that can go with it.”
Frazier got his start 21 years ago as “Santa Paws,” when the Catamount mascot dons a stocking cap and coat, as a last minute gig for an employee luncheon to “help out as needed.” The next year, he transitioned into the red suit with white trim and a fake beard when he was asked to be a part of the “Sounds of the Season” concert. He has been asked back every year since.
Santa is known for a certain girth and Frazier is known for barbecue and cook-outs. Coincidence? “Let’s just say the suit fits,” he said with a laugh. “The suit itself is fairly heavy and you’ll work up a sweat, especially under stage lights.”
There have been impromptu appearances, like the time he was filling up his pickup at a service station while in costume. A woman rushed over and asked if her children could sit on his lap, as it would probably be their only opportunity. He agreed, dropped the tailgate and sat down to hear their Christmas wishes.
More cars pulled in, more kids came over and a line soon formed. Finally breaking away and going to pay, he apologized to the station manager for the commotion. No need to apologize was the response. It was a record evening for gasoline sales.
“It’s part of the joy of being part of the community, here at Western Carolina University and Jackson County,” Frazier said. “Every person is a chance to make an individual connection. Unlike a mall Santa, I don’t need to rush. I can approach them. Build a memory, build a moment.”
Even when it’s a 250-pound Catamount linebacker sitting on his lap for a photo.