November-December 2018 | SANTA JOHN BUSSARD

Santa John Bussard of Ocean Pines



A Master of All Things St. Nick

Written By: Brian Shane | Photographer: GRANT L. GURSKY

They say Santa Claus is for kids. But John Bussard’s portrayal of Santa is so convincing — as though he walked straight off a holiday Coca-Cola advertisement — that he inadvertently brings back childhood memories for gushing adults who meet him in character.

“They tell me, ‘I remember when I was a certain age, and Santa brought me…’ whatever,” he said. “Most of the men will say, ‘Why didn’t I get such-and-such in 1967?’ Santa’s response is, ‘You must have been bad that year.’ Kids always ask me: ‘Where are the reindeer?’”

Santa John, as he calls himself, doesn’t limit his Kris Kringle capers to the holidays. He’s a full-time Santa who books house calls and private events. He attends summertime Santa conventions, and has been three times to the International University of Santa Claus, a feat that earned him a “Masters in Santa-ology.”

“It can be pretty lucrative,” he said of his year-round yuletide. “I’ve never been in a position to make the kind of money that some Santas make, but, a big mall in a populated city, you can make $35,000 in 35 days. Not many Santas do that. I had a former coworker tell me if I went to Singapore for Christmas, I could make over $40,000, all expenses paid. I have no desire to go to Singapore.”

Bussard, 76, had a five-year stint with the Navy before starting his engineering career in 1965. It was this work that eventually led him unexpectedly into the Santa role. 

While living in North Carolina, his employer partnered with a local elementary school to provide a holiday Santa. Over the Christmas of 1998, the regular Saint Nick bailed, and Bussard was drafted into service.

“The secretary of the department I worked for said, ‘Do you have a red shirt?’ I said yes. She said, ‘Well, you’re going to be Santa now.’ I was the closest thing they had at the time. I've had a beard since 1978.”

He kept up the gig for several more years, and gradually, “people began to ask if I would do this or that event, and I started doing that. I got more and more involved and bought more and more Santa-related clothing,” he said.

This Santa doesn’t fly his sleigh solo: John’s wife of 52 years, Vickie, not only has portrayed Mrs. Claus with her husband over the years, but she’s even sewn his custom Santa suits. John and Vickie moved to Ocean Pines last year from North Carolina.

His most memorable Santa story comes from an encounter with an eager 5-year-old boy.

“I said, ‘What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?’ He said, ‘I want to learn how to spit.’ So I was kind of shocked, but I didn’t pursue it, because I didn’t want to question him about any of his motives. A little while later, his mother came. I said, ‘What was that all about?’ She said, ‘I told him he couldn’t use mouthwash until he learned to spit it out.’”

What makes for a great Santa in his experience? Not surprisingly, he said it’s having a tolerance for unhappy children.

“If you have an 18-month-old who doesn’t want to be near you — screaming, crying, yelling — the mothers and grandmothers generally say, ‘Sweetheart, smile!’ And sweetheart is screaming his head off. Ain’t no way that kid is going to smile, sitting on Santa’s lap, scared to death. I usually tell them, that’s going to be a great picture for their boyfriend or girlfriend on the first date.”

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