Nitro, West Virginia - Jay Long retired from a career as the City Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Nitro several years ago. But there is one vocation that he will never retire from nor outgrow. For the past 50 years, Jay Long has donned the red suit of Santa Claus and has found a ministry in making glad the hearts of childhood. To generations of West Virginians he is the one and only Santa Claus. This past December 23, 2011, he was given perhaps the greatest honor a Santa can have – he was presented by his peers with a place in the official Santa Claus Hall of Fame.
“Wow!” Jay exclaimed when he found out that he was to be receive this honor. He had no idea that what he had done out of love for children and Christmas would lead to this. Jay began his long run as Santa in 1962, when his wife Viola made him a Santa suit from red pajamas and pasted cotton balls to his face for a beard. His first visit was to his nephew who noticed a familiar quality about Santa – his shoes. Over the years, Jay perfected the role and became known all over West Virginia as Santa. Joined by his very own Mrs. Claus they were staples in many Christmas festivities including over 30 parades; hundreds of pancake breakfasts; thousands of family visits and visits to schools, nursing homes, and hospitals; television, radio, and print; and even a trip to the Governor’s Mansion.
This April 19-22, Jay and Viola will visit Santa Claus Indiana where they will take part in a special ceremony and “Role Call of Legendary Santas.” That is a title that Jay still can’t get used to. While there they will join nearly 750 Santas and Christmas folk for the Second Annual Jim Yellig Santa Claus Workshop. This event is named for Santa Jim Yellig who for years was known as the Real Santa from Santa Claus Indiana. He is also one of the original twelve inductees of the Hall of Fame.
The Santa Claus Hall of Fame is located in Santa Claus Indiana inside the rotunda of Santa’s Candy Castle, a building which was erected in 1935 as part of a very popular attraction for the time. The Hall of Fame can be visited during regular operating hours.
More information on this event will follow in later articles.