Carefree Christmas Festival’s Santa is checking his list twice

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Ron Bacher. Photo courtesy of Kim Prince.
Santa’s Helper, Ron Bacher, provides a little Christmas magic for local kids. Photo courtesy of Kim Prince.

A handwritten sign announces his workshop, tucked into a tree-lined neighborhood in central Phoenix: “Welcome to the North Pole. Santa is in!”

Ron Bacher’s blue eyes really twinkle; his jolly face is creased with smile lines that make you want to smile back. His long, white beard is just right, and he wears a ball cap that says “Santa.” When we meet in October, he’s a little thin for jolly old St. Nick, but he tells me not to worry.

“The closer I get (to Christmas), the bigger I get, and the happier and more joyful I get,” Bacher says. “Then when Christmas comes, I’m just bubbling over with joy. I’m so appreciative to see the children and bring them the joy and happiness that they’re looking for.”

Bacher should look familiar. He makes many appearances around the Valley during the holiday season, but he’s best known as the Carefree Santa, riding into town on a float during the town’s annual Christmas Festival, which is Friday-Sunday, Dec. 9-11.

Bacher is the father of four, grandfather of seven and great-grandfather of three. The role of Santa — or “Santa’s Helper,” as he calls himself when pressed by more inquisitive kids — seems a natural. He acknowledges it has taken years to grow into the role that started 15 years ago over the telephone.

“A friend of ours had a little friend, and he wanted to talk to Santa,” Bacher recalls. “He was worried he had done something wrong and he wasn’t going to get any presents. I told him he was good, he was on the good list, and that relieved him. We set his heart at ease, and everything was good after the conversation.”

Ron Bacher talking with some children at the Carefree Christmas Festival.
Ron Bacher talking with some children at the Carefree Christmas Festival.

He made the switch from telephone Santa to red-suited, float-riding Santa after the owner of the English Tea Room in Carefree pegged him for the role. Bacher — a carpenter by trade — was trying to sell the owner custom cabinetry.

“I’ll buy the case if you’ll be my Santa,” he told Bacher. “You’re perfect. I want you to be Santa Claus … you’re my Santa for the Carefree Christmas parade.”

The thrill of a grand entrance isn’t lost on Bacher, but he says he most enjoys meeting the children. This Santa won’t be hurried when kids are trying to talk to him. In fact, his best advice to parents is to stop rushing and just slow down.

“Everybody tries to do it quickly, and I tell everybody, ‘It’s OK; this is your time. You waited in line, and everybody else is in line is going to get their time,” he says.

Bacher also has found it makes for a much better visit when he sets little one’s minds at ease about the naughty list.

“I say, ‘There’s a little book, and in that little book … are the names of the best boys and girls all year. And you’re in the book!’ ” he says. “They just fall over, they’re just flabbergasted. They light up, and an explosion happens in their mind and heart.”

For children who really think they’ve done something wrong, Bacher’s wisdom and compassion is apparent.

“Some kids think they’re bad — there’s only been a couple, but they’ll come up and say, ‘Santa, I did this or that,’ and I say, ‘Honey, hold on. You’re giving it up too easy!  Do you ever watch ‘Sesame Street?’ They say ‘Yes’ and I answer, ‘Everyone makes mistakes, so why can’t you?’ ”

When asked whether he’s the real Santa, Bacher doesn’t flinch.

“I say, ‘No, I’m not the real Santa. I’m blessed to know Santa and be his helper.’ ”

Kids sometimes try to test him by asking whether he knows their names.

“I say, ‘There are so many names to remember, and it’s not Christmas yet, so when Christmas comes, that’s when the magic happens. … So tell me again, because I’m getting a little bit older — What is your name?’ ”

When it comes to the gift list, this Santa may be a parent’s best friend, because he doesn’t make grand promises. But he gives them an invaluable gift on the spot. Bacher often says: “Now, Santa cannot promise you any of the things that you’re asking me for, but I can tell you that you were awesome this year. You should be very proud of yourself. I can promise you that you’re going to have a wonderful Christmas.”

Just as he’s thankful each year for the wonder of the season, Santa also makes a point to remind children to be thankful, too, and he marvels in the joys of Christmas with them.

“The magic of it! The parents that went through it, and now they’re bringing their children, and they are just so joyful and enthusiastic,” he says. “The older you get, you know, it’s something to see the beauty of kids and the love of the idea of Christmas.”

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