He has the look: white hair, white beard, round shape. Russ Erickson embodies Santa without even trying. But Erickson didn’t always play the well-known North Pole resident. After retiring from elementary school teaching in 1999, Erickson accepted a position at Dundee Nursery in Plymouth, which included playing the part of jolly old Saint Nick. That first experience in the red suit has led to a waiting list that can sometimes last as long as three years for his Santa services.
“I started there, and word got around,” Erickson says. “I got more and more bookings all the time.”
These days, Erickson suits up for large corporate Christmas parties and Dundee’s Christmas hours. He annually appears in Excelsior as Father Christmas, dressed in a cape and riding the Excelsior Trolley in the Christkindlsmart celebration.
Erickson emphasizes that money did not spark his interest in donning the red suit. Rather, he enjoys reaffirming children’s belief and faith in Santa Claus. In addition to his event lineup, Erickson finds time each Christmas to visit hospital pediatric wings.
Santa Claus’s spirit remains in Erickson’s life year-round. While teaching in Robbinsdale, he took on the role of chess coach. He wanted to offer an after-school program to students who had not yet found an interest. In 18 years, he coached 23 teams, many of which placed tenth or higher in the national tournament and celebrated with two national championship teams. Today, he coaches in the Edina and Bloomington school districts. He also volunteers at his church and gardens in his spare time.
Erickson affirms he maintains the St. Nicholas role on a daily basis.
“I don’t play him; I am him,” he says, smiling. “Every day of the year.”