“Ho ho ho,” booms a jovial and spirited voice. Nearly a month before Christmas, 55-year-old Brooks Haley is gearing up for his yearly Santa duties in his neighborhood.

“Nobody gets any greater pleasure out of being Santa than I do,” he laughs,

For more than 15 years, Haley has been a volunteer Santa for the Sparksman Estates neighborhood. Every year, the community club enlists the help of Santa’s “Elf,” whose job is to wrangle together about five neighborhood residents, usually dads, to play Santa for one night each the week before Christmas. The Elf is responsible for scheduling when and where Santa will appear as neighbors call in requests. And since Haley has been doing it for so long, he often is in demand.

“They always want to know if Brooks Haley will be doing it this year,” says Jeanne Culver, the Elf for the last three years.

As a veteran Santa, Haley has learned a few tricks of the trade, namely how to keep kids from crying.

“A lot of times kids who are younger, 3-4 years old, if you go right up to the door and say ‘Ho Ho Ho,’ the kids will all break out in tears – it scares them. So, I’m careful – if there are little kids – to ring the doorbell and then run out into the front yard and wave. It gives the kids an idea of what’s happening.”

And because inquiring minds want to know, Haley always make a little room for a Santa question and answer time. “How are the reindeer?” is almost always the first question, Haley says, followed by “How do you deliver presents if there’s no snow?”

Although his Santa responses are mostly down pat, Haley sometimes runs into something new. Case in point: One year Haley, in full Santa mode, was walking up the sidewalk to a stop when three girls at the house next door started calling him. “They yelled, ‘Santa! Santa! Come see!’ So I went over there and they said ‘Look! There’s a dead squirrel in our yard!’ I was at a loss for words at that one,” he says, laughing.

But it’s for the kids that Haley volunteers year after year, especially since his son is grown and no longer living at home.

“It really makes Christmas for me because the kids are so cute. It’s so magical for them,” he says. “It really gets me in the Christmas mood.”

Another Sparksman Estates resident, Elda Burton, also plays her part in the Santa tradition. Every year, she invites neighborhood children to her home to have a party with the Sparksman Santa.

“They are so excited. It’s fun to see them sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want,” says Burton, whose husband, Sherman, used to play Santa when he was younger. “He loves the kids.”

Just about everyone in the neighborhood looks forward to the Santa tradition. Even Culver, who handed over her Elf reigns this year, eagerly awaits the week before Christmas, when Santa will visit her home. And though her kids are a little older this year (16, 13 and 7), she says they’re more than excited to see the big man.

Says Culver: “You don’t do Christmas without Sparksman Santa coming.”

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