Among a sea of Santas, Roger Schramm stands out. It might be the deep red velvety suit. It might be the jingle bells hanging from his hip, or the goodies he keeps on hand to give out to "boys and girls" of all ages.
If I had to pick one reason, though, that Schramm beckoned me like the Christmas star from among a constellation of three dozen pub-crawling Santas in the Garland District Saturday night, it would have to be the beard.
Schramm's is bleached a perfect white, along with his hair, and the beard really shines in a crowd of imbibing Kris Kringles who mostly have store-bought beards.
Schramm starts growing his Santa beard Aug. 1 every year in preparation for a December full of Santa shenanigans. As we chat at Rick's Ringside Pub, one of several stops on the Spokane SantaCon crawl, he pulls up his phone's calendar and shows me a month full of charity events, private parties, Eastern Washington University football games and other gigs that are part of his Santa schedule. They are, naturally, color-coded in red.
On Christmas morning, the 63-year-old Schramm hits the slopes of Mount Spokane in full Santa regalia before shaving his Santa beard off in time for a big family Christmas gathering in the evening.
"My mom likes to see me clean-shaven for dinner," Schramm says.
Schramm's been growing the real Santa beard for about eight years, but he's been working as a seasonal Santa for about 30. It all started when a Santa his sister hired for a party flaked, and Schramm made an emergency fill-in. He did two events each year as Santa for about a decade before really leaning into his St. Nick appeal; he now does about 40 each season.
Occasionally, between all the do-gooder gigs and for-profit parties, Schramm likes to hook up with something like the Spokane SantaCon, joining some fellow ho-ho-hoers in celebrating the season.
Asked if he has any advice for the amateur Santas surrounding him on Saturday night, Schramm relates a few rules to live by. Santas never suck in their gut, for one. And if a Santa is in his costume, he has to be in character. Then, of course, there is Schramm's own Santa Creed: Don't drink beer or whiskey. Don't get drunk. And don't ever be seen with another Santa. Of course, as I talk to him he's one of many, many Santas in the room.
"And I'm doing something I never do as Santa, and that's drink beer."
Even Santa gets to be naughty now and again. ♦