Sleigh Bells Still Ringing
Circle City Santa Talks 40 Years of Spreading Cheer to Indianapolis & Hamilton County Communities
Photographer: Brian Brosmer
For 40 years, Larry Shaw has donned the red suit, bringing cheer to children all around Indianapolis. For Shaw — joyfully known around Indy as the Circle City Santa — it all began in 1978.
That year, his daughter’s school — St. Michael-St. Gabriel Catholic Elementary School — was in need of a Santa to come visit the kids. Shaw, whose family was a part of the church, was pretty well known around the community and got asked to put on the red suit. He and his wife Karen happily agreed.
“At that time you didn’t necessarily look for the guy with the beard, you looked for the big guy, which I wasn’t really at the time,” Shaw says. “I’m still not that big compared to most Santas. My wife and I went as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, though. She absolutely loved it and convinced me to go to other classes in the school.”
That first year sparked a passion in the Shaws to continue bringing joy to people each Christmas season as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. From there, they branched out to other local schools and nursing homes.
It wasn’t long after that before friends and co-workers began asking the Shaws to stop by for home visits with their families.
Shaw, who retired from the United States Postal Service in 2011 after 35 years as a mail carrier, really began pursuing the Santa role professionally around 10 years ago as he neared retirement. Today, 90 percent of the events and neighborhood appearances he does are in the Geist, Fishers, Carmel and Noblesville communities.
This year, he has plenty of appearances lined up, especially in Geist and Hamilton County neighborhoods. Shaw is also a part of Fishers’ jolliest event of the year — Winter Wonderland. He will be on hand at that event Dec. 1. He will also be available for photos with Santa Dec. 4-5 at The Pavilion in Fishers.
Shaw always enjoys his visits to the northside. However, living closer to the Indianapolis Airport, he says, the biggest challenge is the drive up. It’s not quite the North Pole, but it is a trek. And, yes, even Santa has to deal with the traffic.
“I wish I could take my sleigh out and use it all year long,” Shaw laughs. “Like I tell the kids, I have to get a special permit. The only time I can fly my sleigh is on Christmas Eve. My car is the Santa Patrol Car and has a great, big bow on it that I show the children. I always let them know that it belongs to the elves and they let me borrow it or they drive me around when I can’t use my sleigh.”
The gig never gets old for Shaw, who enjoys the new memories made each year.
“As a Santa, you feel like Superman or something,” Shaw says. “All these kids adore you and come up to you, grabbing your legs and yelling, ‘Santa, Santa!’ Who wouldn’t want to be Santa Claus? The kids are fun.”
Shaw’s very first outfit all those years ago consisted of a Kmart suit and strap-on beard. He’s come a long way since then. Today, he dons a professional suit and a convincing beard, not too mention the time spent in preparing for the role.
Shaw has attended Professional Santa Claus School in Colorado to hone his skills. He also founded the Hoosier Santas group in 2011. The group is made up of more than 300 members, including around 150 Santas. They meet once a month somewhere in Indiana, sharing stories and creating friendships. In the offseason, Shaw created the “Inside the North Pole Rehearsal.” The best Santas, Shaw says, make sure to practice at it and stay on their feet.
“It is a rehearsal for the holiday season,” Shaw says. “We will all get together and pull from a jar some questions that you might get from the kids. You have to stay in character for two hours as we go around the room, rolling a dice to see who goes next. It helps Santas build their backstories, too. If you are Santa, you have to know what he eats for breakfast, what he likes to do and incorporate some things from your life to make it authentic.”
Shaw came from a humble family, but, as you can imagine, he grew up just as excited as the next kid when Christmas rolled around. His parents always made sure the house was fully decorated each season. Those Christmas memories are a part of his story today.
“My mom and dad loved Christmas, and we really had great Christmases,” Shaw recalls. “That’s probably why I love it so much today. We had one shed in our backyard that was completely dedicated to Christmas stuff. They always got us involved with decorating the tree. I always made my list and wrote to Santa what I wanted each year.”
Shaw has plenty of stories over the years talking with kids. He’s had children ask him just about every question imaginable, never once breaking character. He’s also visited homeless shelters as Santa, going out of his way in some cases to make sure those children get gifts.
As for what kids ask for most often, Shaw says it has changed in recent years.
“These days, the kids don’t ask for toys really anymore,” he says. “It’s cellphones. They all want a phone. ‘Give me a phone,’ they say. I always tell them, ‘Well, I can get you a phone. The elves know how to make cellphones, but your mom and dad will have to pay for the phone bill. Santa can’t pay for that.’”
As the holiday season rolls around, like you, Shaw has his favorite Christmas movies. He does enjoy Tim Allen’s “The Santa Clause” if he’s going for comedy, but his all-time favorite Christmas movie is “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Shaw recently turned 69 years old. The long-time Santa doesn’t see himself ditching his sled and reindeer anytime soon, though.
“I always said, when this becomes a job, I’m quitting,” Shaw says. “That has never been the case. The kids’ eyes still light up when they see Santa. Sometimes, when I’m not even in costume, I might go to eat and hear kids at another table whisper, ‘Look, there’s Santa!’ It’s great. I can see myself laying out in a coffin in my Santa suit when it’s all said and done.”
For more information on Circle City Santa, visit circlecitysanta.com. Check with your local neighborhood HOA to find out if Shaw or another Santa is making an appearance soon. Fishers families looking to get photos with Circle City Santa on Dec. 4 or 5 at The Pavilion can visit playfishers.com/218/Winter-Wonderland to reserve a time slot.