By Chris Moon
After 35 years in ministry, Vernon and Ellen Landreth found a new way to share the story of Jesus Christ—as Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
The couple have spent more than a decade serving their Idaho community as the jolly couple in red. They created a business to match—The Santa Couple—and typically do 60 to 70 “gigs” per year, Ellen Landreth said.
They make home and business visits and join customers on carriage rides. They’ll even drop off presents wherever they are needed.
And they’ll tell the story of the birth of Jesus Christ “at every opportunity we can,” Ellen said.
“I want this to be a ministry, or we don’t do it at all,” Vernon added.
Vernon and Ellen met in the 1960s at Boise (Idaho) Bible College and then ventured out into a 35-year career in ministry—at Yoncalla Church of Christ, White City Church of Christ, and Newport Christian Church, all in Oregon.
The couple retired from ministry in 2000 and moved back near Boise, close to their grandchildren.
And Vernon’s beard began to gray.
“When you get around 60 or so, your beard starts getting white. And people were just starting to call him Santa Claus,” Ellen said.
She made Vernon his first Santa suit, and he started making appearances in the church and community.
“It just went from there,” Ellen said.
The couple began charging for their services, realizing it could help offset some of their expenses in retirement. But they’ve never lost sight of the meaning of Christmas.
Vernon wears a cross around his neck with his Santa suit. And the couple regularly tells the story of Christ at gatherings and sings “Silent Night.” They have a Nativity set they use to involve children in the story of Christmas.
Vernon also carries a skeleton key marked with the letters—J-O-Y. He tells children the key allows him to enter houses to deliver gifts. The letters, he said, stand for “Jesus, others, yourself,” and he reminds children that Christmas is more about giving than receiving.
Asked what makes for a good Santa Claus, Vernon said, “I think it helps to believe in Jesus to understand God’s great generosity. To me, that is a primary part—being a believer.”
Ellen said being Mrs. Claus has been a joy.
“I think after all those 50-plus years of teaching kids in Sunday school, I know how to interact with children,” she said. “It’s kind of natural.”
The couple’s slate of activities as Mr. and Mrs. Claus is a bit reduced this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to socially distance. Their repertoire now includes Zoom meetings with children and families.
Ellen said the couple have helped mentor two other Christians to take on the role of Santa Claus, including one younger man who dyes his beard white each year.
“So you don’t have to wait until you are old and gray before giving Santa a shot,” Ellen said.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.