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Draper Journal

Draper’s Santa Claus talks shop

Jun 03, 2024 02:54PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

BonnieJean Black is very proud of her dad, Allan, a longtime Draper resident who has spent nearly 20 years posing for Christmas photos with families at the Sorensen Home. “My dad is Santa and I just love that! That’s what I’ll always remember about him,” she said. (Courtesy BonnieJean Black)

As Father’s Day approaches, not many people can boast that their dad is Santa Claus. But BonnieJean Black and her brother Matt Thomas can. Their dad, Allan Thomas, is Draper’s resident Santa.

You may have seen Allan riding around town in his golf cart with his canine companion, Wookie. Or maybe you’ve spotted him in a car and thought “wait a minute, is that the guy from the North Pole?” Perhaps you’ve had your photo taken with him during the Christmas season at the Sorensen Home while telling him what you hope will be in your stocking. 

“My dad is Santa, and I just love that,” BonnieJean said. As she recalls, his stint in the red suit started with his hair. “He started growing it long and my mom and I thought he should be Santa Claus. His hair got whiter and kids started coming up to him…they’d ask if he was Santa and he’d answer by saying ‘Ho ho ho.’ He asked a friend who’d been Santa and that man advised finding a suit. He put it on first thing and we were like, ‘This is your true calling,’” BonnieJean said. 

As Allan remembers it, the nod to play the guy from the North Pole started even before his time as the Sorensen Home Santa, back to when Draper first became a city. “A lot of it kicked off with Draper City fire and police departments back then,” he said. He was one of Draper’s first volunteer firemen. In those days, the fire chief and crew would ride around town on a firetruck to pass out candy to residents at Christmas time. Allan remembers being asked to play Santa a few times. After being a volunteer firefighter, Allan was one of Draper’s first police officers. The police chief at the time knew a family that needed a Santa for a party and he approached Allan. 

“That’s how I got started. That’s probably been a good 40-45 years,” he said. Allan still proudly displays his fire and police badges in his Draper home. 

For Allan, it’s important to be authentic and resemble what he terms an “original Santa” from the WWII era. “Santa Claus to me when I was growing up was a really neat thing. My dad had a great big poster of an original Santa. The picture I use of myself as Santa for the Sorensen Home and just about everything is a great likeness to that,” he said.

Years ago, Allan even went so far as to have his naturally black hair bleached at a local salon to be as authentic as possible. These days, his hair has naturally turned white with age. 

“He’s very genuine with his own hair and white beard,” said Helene Terry. She has volunteered at the Sorensen Home since it opened more than two decades ago. According to Terry, Allan first served as the Sorensen Home’s Santa beginning in 2007 and he’s been doing it every year since. 

“It’s fun! We decorate the home with old-fashioned decorations and we have a photographer. People can pay to have a picture taken with Santa. That money helps us to maintain the museum for the rest of the year,” Terry said. 

In addition to the Sorensen Home, Allan can also be found every Sunday of the holiday season at La Caille and he does private parties for families several nights a week from Thanksgiving through Christmas. People start calling him in July and he’s generally booked by October. 

“People call early…I feel quite honored,” Allan said. 

Being Santa has been a learning curve, but he’s honed his skills. “Kids want to be talked with, not just asked what they want,” he said. He chats with each individual he meets, both children and adults, and tries to make them feel special. “I’ve learned that if you really treat the kids with love and kindness, you not only make the kids happy, but you make the parents happy,” he said.

It makes his own kids very happy, too. “On Facebook, I’ll see my friends and their kids in pictures and think ‘that’s my dad!’ And my friends are like ‘Santa’s your dad?’ He has really shone as Santa Claus,” BonnieJean said.

Most memorable to both father and daughter was years ago when the manager of the VF Factory Outlet Mall asked Allan to dress as Santa and ride in on a fire engine for a community event.  “All the kids were screaming and everybody was so excited,” BonnieJean said. Allan estimates there were a couple thousand kids. “I’ve never seen such a conglomeration of kids in my life! The kids were going crazy and my wife was sitting on a bench with another lady, taking it all in. They looked at each other and started to cry and they said, ‘He IS the real Santa,’” he said. Another fun experience for Allan was the time a couple rented a FrontRunner train, called it the Polar Express, and invited him to play Santa while kids rode from Draper to Provo. 

Allan laughed as he recounted funny experiences he’s had while donning his authentic Santa ensemble. “You get little kids with sticky fingers. One had a candy cane that stuck in my beard and I couldn’t get it out for a while. You get kids that pee or poop on your lap or throw up on you. Oh my gosh, I’ve had it all! Then you get those that bring their pets. You never want to try to get a picture with a cat…a cat will rip you apart,” he said. He doesn’t mind having his photo with equines or canines. “The horses are more fun than anything else. I do a lot of pictures with dogs and horses,” Allan said.

The craziest requests he’s had are when a child asked him for a unicorn and a grown woman asked him for a husband. The typically jolly fellow choked up when he recalled the most poignant requests. “The hardest ones are when they’re hoping a sibling, a parent, or a pet will recover from an illness,” he said. 

How does he handle a child’s resentment when they didn’t get what they asked for? He’s come up with a modern-day remedy: He tells the child their parents are supposed to email Santa their request. “I explain that their parents must not have emailed me. I’m not gonna take the kickin!,” he said.

Allan has even been known to offer words of wisdom or encouragement to some adults who come to see him. “You don’t know what influence you’re going to have with people. You can make a difference in their lives,” he said. 

What does Draper’s Santa do in the offseason to recover from the flurry of holiday activity? You’ll find him going to car shows with the hot rod he built, a 1941 blue Chevy two-door sedan painted with flames. That’s his sleigh, that and his golf cart.

Allan said people sometimes bring their baby books to him to show their pictures with him as Santa through the years. BonnieJean said a local family has grown up visiting her dad at the Sorensen Home every year since they were little, and they continue to do so, even in their twenties. 

“You’re never too old for Santa,” she said. λ