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Santa season: St. Nick dons the red and white
Robert Espinoza donned his Santa Claus suit to greet passersby Monday outside the Riverton post office. Photo by Wayne Nicholls

Santa season: St. Nick dons the red and white many times and at many places

Dec 24, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Every year around Christmas time, Robert Espinoza is struck by the spirit of Santa Claus.

"It's something that can't be explained," he said. "It just comes into me."

He likened himself to Clark Kent, who becomes Superman simply by donning a blue suit and cape.

When Espinoza puts on his bright, red jacket and white, fluffy beard, he said he embodies Father Christmas.

"(I) just carry that spirit," he said. "(I) go in there and give the, 'Ho ho ho,' and, 'Merry Christmas, joy to young and old.'"

The 64-year-old says he started impersonating Santa at area events several years ago "just to see the smiles on those kids' faces."

"It's the gleam in their eyes," Espinoza said. "Kids love Santa. They like looking at him and taking their picture with him, and that's what I enjoy. Because there's a lot of kids out there that don't get Christmas."

Espinoza goes to day cares and elementary schools as well as private parties hosted by local businesses or residents. His biggest gig is at the Wind River Hotel and Casino, where 200 children

gathered to greet Santa this year.

"It's something else," he said of the experience. "I had them sit in a horse shoe circle and tell me about their schools and what they thought about Christmas and why we celebrate Christmas.

"Some kids say, 'Oh, it's so we can get presents.'"

He is often entertained by the comments he gets from his young audiences. One little boy, who was speaking into a microphone while talking to Espinoza at the casino, chose an odd dish for his traditional Christmas meal.

"I asked him, 'What do you like to eat on Christmas Day?'" Espinoza said. "He said, 'A couple of eggs.' ... Everybody started cracking up."

Other children are more shy when it's time to meet Santa.

"They hesitate to look at you," he said. "The ones that are like 2 and 3, they really spook out."

The younger ones can have issues with bladder control, too. Espinoza said he has learned to bring a pillow along to put on his lap while he talks to toddlers.

"They can wet the pillow, and I can just throw it in the washer," he said.

When older children come to visit, Espinoza said he is usually impressed by their gift requests, which often involve electronics.

"These kids are smart," he said. "They want iPods, iPads, Xboxes and everything. When I was growing up we didn't get stuff like that -- we got a bicycle."

He said some kids still ask for bikes and dolls.

"But electronics is No. 1," Espinoza said.

He usually arrives at each event wearing jingle bells and carrying candy canes to give out to children. Espinoza invited people to call him at 840-3024 to schedule an appearance.

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