Burkhalter says it’s an honor to lead 2009 Santa Claus Parade

Published 12:38 am Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jeff Burkhalter told his grandchildren that he’d been asked to be one of Santa’s helpers this year.

He had to think of something to tell them about all of this fuss over getting the suit.

“I asked them to tell me if I looked like Santa,” Burkhalter said. “And once I got it all on, they said, ‘Yeah, papa, you do look like Santa.’”

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Burkhalter is the Santa Claus Committee’s official Santa this year, and he’ll be making the rounds and giving out toys Thursday.

“Being Santa is not about me,” Burkhalter said. “It is about the kids and the 400-member committee that give selflessly to make this happen.

“For them to ask me, how could that not be an honor?”

The Santa Claus Committee was founded in 1928, when local businessmen decided to help the children who would not receive any presents on Christmas morning.

The committee has continued the tradition with an annual parade and giving gifts at the Braden School and the Natchez Children’s Home.

“Being Santa makes me feel like a kid again,” Burkhalter said. “I always loved Christmas. My parents made it special for me, and I tried to make it special for my kids.

“The idea of making other kids’ Christmas special, it warms your heart.”

Burkhalter said this committee, riding throughout Natchez, giving to people they don’t even know, helps bring out the Christmas spirit in people.

“Coming from Meridian, I’d never seen anything like this,” he said. “But now that I’ve been a committee member for years, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself on Christmas Eve without it.”

Being Santa has also warmed Burkhalter’s heart and helped bring out an extra Christmas spirit in him this year.

“The older you get, and as your children move away, you start thinking that you don’t need to put out as many lights as you used to,” he said. “But this year, we’ve gone above and beyond with decorations.”

Burkhalter also has family in from California this year, and his 2-year-old grandson has had to be a trooper with all of the trips that have been made to put this together.

“I have dragged him from Baton Rouge to Jackson and all over getting this Santa suit made,” he said. “Monday morning, when he woke up, he looked at me and said, ‘I love you, papa.’

“For him to put up with all of that just shows that he is getting into the spirit of Christmas.”

And Burkhalter hopes this Christmas Spirit is contagious, as he leads the parade through Natchez Thursday morning.

The parade starts at 8:25 a.m. Thursday with Santa in tow. The group will start at Mount Carmel Subdivision then head to the subdivisions of Oakland, Brooklyn, Brookfield, Montebello, Eastbrook, Westover, Dunkerron, Highland, The Trees and Fatherland.

At 11:20 the Santa entourage will stop at Braden School to distribute toys to needy children. Children approved by the Children’s Christmas Tree Fund will be present. The toys Santa passes out are purchased through donations to the fund.

After lunch, the Santa parade will visit the Natchez Children’s Home, and the subdivisions of Oakhurst, Roselawn and Glenwood.