It’s the most wonderful — and busiest — time of the year for Penticton’s Gary Haupt, arguably the South Okanagan’s most well-known Santa Claus.
Three years after parting ways with Cherry Lane Shopping Centre over tongue-in-cheek photos they labelled inappropriate, but which were taken on Haupt’s own time off mall property, the beloved Penticton Santa has never been busier.
“We were busier during COVID than before,” Haupt said. “During the first year … we did personal videos. People would send us information (such as) child’s name, pet name, maybe a message, and we set up a little studio in our kitchen and … sent them out. It was a blast.”
Haupt and his partner, Sharon Nichols, estimate that they produced well over 200 videos, each approximately two-and-half minutes in length. That doesn’t include editing time, either, added Haupt.
With the return of in-person events, this holiday season is jammed pack for Haupt.
He recently helped out at a Slackwater Brewing event benefiting Mamas for Mamas, and he can be found at various locations throughout Penticton in the next coming weeks including Highway 97 on December 13 for a photo session with pets and children, Wayne and Freda’s on December 20, and the Lakeside Resort.
He is even partaking in professional photos with local photographer Douglas Drouin for the Santa at the Square event running now until December 20.
Haupt is so well-known in the area as Santa that he has committed to several events in West Kelowna.
But despite the busy schedule, Haupt doesn’t think of being Santa as a job.
“It’s a responsibility,” he said. “It’s magic. I enjoy the opportunity to be part of somebody’s life, whether it’s a child or an adult. I love being around people … and they’re laughing and getting them singing, that’s really special. That’s like — wow — that’s the key to the kingdom, almost.”
And to be able to interact with children and their parents in-person once again has been “wonderful," but it has not just been kids Haupt has noticed a lot of excitement from.
“It’s the adults who I hear it from lots, not having had pictures with Santa, not having a visit. Lots of adults have taken the opportunity to take a picture with me and express their happiness that we’re back to a good place.”
And as an avid volunteer, Haupt has enjoyed offering time at events such as this past weekend’s Mamas for Mamas event.
“I’m huge on volunteering. I do what I can,” Haupt said, adding he has previously volunteered his time at hospice homes when living in the Lower Mainland, and even at Penticton’s OSNS.
“I’m really a fan of doing the most with my time, whatever that is,” he said. “It’s wonderful.”
Follow Santa's Penticton schedule online here.