It’s that time of year, and for many people in the Corvallis and Eugene area, the guy in the suit is none other than John Rakestraw, a former school bus driver for special needs students with a passion for performing arts.
Rakestraw makes his way around the area, bringing his very own holiday personality to all kinds of company parties, family events, and even personal home visits.
“I don’t just play being Santa, I am Santa,” he said.
As a kid, Rakestraw’s face-to-face interaction with Santa was fairly minimal, but his ability to keep the magic in Christmas is something he looks back on fondly. Growing up, he thought that playing Santa was something he would like to do, but never guessed it would be a role outside of the theater. And he definitely never guessed many of his visits would be to the homes of families who are all growing up together; families whose children can’t necessarily make it to the mall, or even families who would rather skip the line at the mall and get more than 15 minutes with Old Saint Nick.
He doesn’t go alone—a few of his own eight sons and daughters tag along to help out. And the hardest part about being Santa? Why, the paperwork, of course.
“You’re basically freelancing, or owning your own business,” he said. The background checks, the scheduling, and the bookkeeping are the sides of Santa that no one ever considers.
Rakestraw believes that his experience and love for special needs children have given him a strong foundation to provide that holiday magic to everyone, but also that playing the part has made him a better person.
“I’m responsible for a very iconic symbol for people. You don’t want to say or do the wrong thing and ruin that image for people,” he said.
This means he has to prepare answers to every question someone might throw at him. For example, why do some kids get bigger presents than others?
“I have a bag and I pull whatever has your name on it. It’s the magic of the bag, I don’t get to control what comes out. I’m like the UPS guy!” he said.
Rakestraw also let on that Rudolph now has grandkids, who were all born with either a red or green nose. And when people catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis, they are actually seeing Rudolph’s trusty family of flyers leading Santa back to the North Pole.
But one thing different about Rakestraw’s Christmas tradition is that he does not actually keep a naughty list. He tells people that in order to stay on the nice list, “You have to have kindness, and understanding, and love in your heart.”
To Rakestraw, being Santa is a calling, not something you can pull off by simply buying a suit and letting out a big chuckle.
“You have to make sure you understand what you’re giving the people,” he said. And from the sound of it, Rakestraw truly does know how to keep the magic of the holidays alive and accessible to everyone.
By Regina Pieracci