Behind the Beard

legendary Chippewa Falls Santa Chuck Card chats about candy canes, carols, and fake whiskers

Tom Giffey

For a quarter of a century, community booster extraordinaire Chuck Card has brought Santa Claus to life in Chippewa Falls. Whether you attend the annual Bridge to Wonderland Parade (mark your calendars for Dec. 6 this year), line up to sit on St. Nick’s lap on a Saturday between Thanksgiving or Christmas at “Santa’s House” (aka the Rutledge Charity Building), or just run into him handing out candy canes on Bridge Street, this time of year you’re bound to see Card spreading the spirit of the season. “For me, it’s just seeing everybody having fun,” explains Card when asked about why he continues to don the red suit each yuletide. Volume One chatted with Card about his favorite Christmas song, what to do with crying kids, and what Santa’s beard is really made of.

Volume One: What is Santa up to in Chippewa Falls this time of year?

Santa Claus: We do all kinds of neat things. Santa comes in on the day after Thanksgiving in a different way every year. We have a marvelous group of volunteers who give out ornaments. We try to make a different ornament related to the theme of the parade every year. The first year or two, we talked them into letting us use the Rutledge Building (404 N. Bridge St.) as a “Santa House.” They’ve been real neat with us in terms of letting us trim the place up. We have it looking like a Candyland inside. Every Saturday after Thanksgiving we have Santa there from 11 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. Every Thursday night, Santa walks on the street in the downtown. Then the last four or five years now, I’ve gotten Jerry Way to come along on Thursday nights with a bunch of carolers and stop at restaurants and stuff, and people are just awestruck with it. The carolers can’t wait until the next year. It’s really a neat thing. I pass out candy canes to everybody I greet on the street. Last year we handed out 1,330 candy canes.

What’s it like being the featured attraction in the Bridge to Wonderland Parade?

That’s one of the most invigorating things I’ve done in my whole life. Two years ago we had 16,000 people there. Our parade is such that there’s only one Santa, and he comes down on the last float. It’s really something. Everybody seems to get fired up about the whole procedure. 

Do you have a most memorable lap experience?

I’ve got one little guy – they’re from the Twin Cities – he comes in and sings for me every year, and that’s kind of neat. It’s amazing. One of the first years we had this little gal came in with red hair and a green velvet dress. You run into some real strange problems. We had one little guy whose parents were separated, and he says, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, my mother wants me to be with her on Christmas Eve and my father wants me to be with him on Christmas Eve.”

Do kids ever pull on your beard or poke your belly?

Oh yeah, they try to pull the beard.

What are the most commonly asked-for gifts, for girls and for boys? 

A lot of electronic things right now that kids ask for, yet we still have quite a few little gals that like the Barbies. There’s just so much out there now there doesn’t seem to be any one particular thing that they go for like they used to.

What are the most common questions you get from kids? How do you answer them?

Some of them are real talkative. They want to know where the reindeer are. I say they’re back up there are at the North Pole waiting for the big night. And then they ask me how I got there, and I say a friend lent me their vehicle.

Have you ever had a kid cry or say, “You’re not the real Santa”?

Once in a great while. I’ve been pretty lucky. I’ve had my grandkids, one of them has been my elf for quite a few of the years. Sometimes these kids come in and they’re absolutely terrified with Santa. My elf helps me out. Sometimes they’ll go to Mrs. Santa when they won’t go to Santa. I’ve got several hand puppets I bring along. Sometimes I bring out one of the hand puppets and that kind of breaks the ice. 

When you deliver presents on Christmas Eve, do you bring someone along or is it just you and the reindeer?

I’ve gotta have help. You’ve always have to have an elf.

Do you have a favorite part of the season?

I would have to say probably parade night is the highlight of everything. Seeing all the kids and everyone enjoying themselves – their smiling faces and waving. I always tell them when they come in to see Santa that they have to be sure to wave at Santa or they can’t come to the parade.

Do you have a favorite Christmas song? 

The carol that I’ve got my own part in is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I’m usually busy handing out candy canes when they’re singing, but when they sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” they stop and Santa goes on with his little solo: “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

What is the first thing that Santa does as soon as Christmas is over? Does he go on vacation?

He sacks out. (Laughs.) I’m usually exhausted by the time I get done with it. I have some things I do on the side. We have a mentor program in Chippewa that really is successful, and Mrs. Santa and I appear at that. We do a thing at the library, too.

Beards seem to be a popular fashion statement these days. Does Santa have any grooming tips?

We had to get a new beard a few years ago, so we had a beard fund going. The beard I have is made out of yak hair. The beard and hairpiece ran about 500 bucks. One of the beauty shops here, the Styling Post, fixes up my beard every year.