The Magic of Santa Claus
One man’s passion brings Christmas cheer to believers everywhere
Published: October 5, 2012
For Gregg Turk, a retired woodworker and contractor of 30 years, being at home in Somerville, Ala., is a lot like living the cabin life. His house, which he built piece by piece over many years, is in a secluded location in the mountains, invisible to those at the end of his quarter-mile driveway.
During the day, Turk spends most of his time in his large wood shop, tinkering on current pieces. In the evening, he is content to sit and watch the sun set on his property. It is in these quiet moments that he finds inspiration for new woodworking projects.
“The sawdust is kind of in my nose and in my blood, and I can’t get away from it,” says Turk. “That’s my life … I get to do things that just make me smile.”
Besides woodworking, there is something else that Turk does that makes him smile. Something he is also very passionate about. He gets to be Santa Claus.
Jumping in with both feet
In 2008, when Turk first decided to become a Santa Claus, he set out to be the best jolly old elf he could be. He took classes at the International University of Santa Claus (IUSC) and became a member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas (IBRBS). He even conducted a great deal of research before carefully selecting the most authentic pieces for his Santa suit, some of which he modeled after the Coca-Cola Santas of the 1930s.
But his training for the role of Santa began long before Turk ever decided to don the red suit. For years, the woodworker and his son had a tradition of spending most of every December in his wood shop, crafting furniture, toys, carvings and other Christmas gifts. Friends and family would even joke that Turk want Santa because of his workshop activities during the Christmas season.
“My mom and dad always looked forward to the season, anticipating a new crop of projects that would be found on the floor of their home under the tree,” says Turk. “I still had a key to their house and would sneak in and place presents while they were out.”
Adding a sleigh
Turk admits that one of the challenges of being a Santa Claus is
fielding the difficult questions that kids ask. He vividly recalls the
moment when one skeptical young girl asked him where his sleigh was.
With a little quick thinking, Turk told the girl that the sleigh
was currently at a NASA testing facility, where it was getting its GPS
“She took and put her hands on her hips and cocked her head, and
she blinked one eye closed and looked at me, and I could see what was
going through her mind,” says Turk with a chuckle. “She was saying,
‘You’re full of it! You’re lying to me!’”
In the end, that little exchange put Turk on the fast track toward
building his own sleigh from the wood of one poplar tree. (Read more
about how Turk built the sleigh here.)
Turk describes the project as all-encompassing, saying that he
would work in the shop during the day and tweak his computer drawings by
night. In the morning he printed his changes and returned to work. That
cycle would continue everyday (including Saturdays and Sundays) until
the sleigh was finished.
“My wife came over to my shop one day,” says Turk, “and she looked,
and she said, ‘What in the devil are you doing?’ And I said, ‘Well …
honey, uhh … I’m kind of building a sleigh.’ And she went out of the
shop, almost disgusted, because I’m sure the ‘honey-do’ list she had was
more pressing. It kind of stayed that way for a little over a couple of
months until the [sleigh’s] form really started to show. And at the end
of it she just stood back and shook her head, saying, ‘My gosh! What
are you going to do with it?’ Let me tell you, it wasn’t a very romantic
period, because she really thought that I had gone over the edge!”
When all was said and done, the project cost Turk 1,600 hours of
labor and $17,000 in materials. But the end result has greatly enhanced
the image of his Santa persona, and it is clear that Turk considers the
sleigh his magnum opus.
Santa visits the world
As Santa Claus, Turk makes numerous public appearances at parades and
festivals, and he rarely goes without his sleigh. With a dashboard full
of gadgets and a button that activates a thrilling “launch sequence,”
the sleigh commands almost as much attention as Santa himself. For
children of all ages, the combination is magical.
Besides being a bit of a celebrity in his home state of Alabama,
Turk also spreads the magic of Santa across the globe. He once made a
trip to China, where he was greeted wholeheartedly and called the
traditional Chinese name of “Dun Che Lao Ren,” which means “Christmas
“Everybody wanted their photo taken with me,” said Turk. “I had such a wild and accepting reception from people.”
This year, Turk would love to travel to Singapore, which is known
as one of the best Christmas sites in the world. Not surprisingly, Turk
is even looking into what it would take to bring his sleigh along.
“I can give [them] something that the world has never seen,” says Turk. “This sleigh really is one of a kind.”
So is the man who built it.
For more on Gregg Turk and his sleigh, as well as his role as Santa Claus, visit www.santavisitstheworld.com.To see more photos of the sleigh and Turk's adventures, click here.
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