As families across the valley wake up with the sun to tackle mounds of presents and embark on arguably the most celebrated day of the year, one man central to their family traditions will be fast asleep.
Known only as Santa to all the many children who clambered onto his lap to confess their deepest wishes in recent weeks, Tom Kliner had earned the rest — just as he does every year.
He’s a hot-ticket St. Nick, with a real white beard, a bespoke red suit that looks straight out of the North Pole and credentials that only very few working Santas can boast. Among the most notable are memberships to Santas Across the Globe and the Fraternity of International Real Bearded Santas.
While he said it’s far too pompous to take on the title of “Kelowna’s Santa” it’s exactly what Kliner is to many who know him. He’s the man in red at the City of Kelowna’s main holiday event, at the food bank, at various charity photoshoots and for a few private events as well.
The line-up to get a picture with Kliner at the annual Baby and Me fundraising photo event once started to build before the sun rose, and when he was only able to see a fraction of the children he normally does at another annual event, people were up in arms.
The length of the latter event was cut back because of the injuries Kliner incurred Sept. 1, when a Honda Civic turned left in front of him and he was thrown from his motorcycle into its windshield.
In the immediate aftermath, it was apparent that the injuries were significant and some expressed online concerns that Kliner wouldn’t survive. But in the days that followed Kliner emerged to write in an online post, “I am alive, in a lot of pain and more to tell you but it will have to wait a bit. Thank you for all the well wishes and concerns so far.”
He spent time healing, then came the busiest season of his year.
“There was a point we didn’t think it was going to be possible. We turned down a lot of work and the work we did take on had to be done with modifications and restrictions,” said Kliner, who leaned heavily on Mrs. Claus for this year’s events.
Throughout the experience he was in pain, a lot. But what pushed both he and Mrs. Claus on was people they worked with to provide a genuine Santa experience for countless Okanagan-based charities.
“We got treated like royalty, it was amazing,” he said, of some of the venues he appeared.
And of course, the families who went to see him also offered some rewards.
Some children brought him get-well cards, having been given a vague understanding that Santa wasn’t having his best year.
“People had an idea of what had happened, and when we talked about it … it was heartwarming and it brought a few tears,” he said, adding that one family brought in a decade of Santa photos to illustrate how he was intrinsic to their holiday experience.
Mostly, however, he kept it under his hat and soldiered on.
Kliner explained it’s a joy to be embraced in the community, and while he’s made a life embodying Santa it’s always a blessing to get another year of work and he’s not planning on taking it for granted.
Over time, he may scale back his appearances and work a level that’s fitting to the amount of energy he has. That, however, is not cause for concern.
“As I always say, it’s not about me. Families need to find a Santa they like and stay with them,” he said, explaining that the traditions in each family enrich the holiday experience.