Father Christmas lives in local man’s eyes

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Marty Gordon

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Photos courtesy of RU
Father Christmas, aka Bob Evans of Mt. Lake, spoke to a packed room of children and adult this past week at Radford University as part of the Alumni Association’s annual “Breakfast with Santa.”

Typically, this time of year when a man with white beard, a red suit and black boots walks into the room, the eyes of youngsters become larger than marbles. In the case of Bob Evans, those eyes get even larger as he tells stories that captivates the minds of those older than 21 years of old standing throughout the room. His character is “Father Christmas” and includes a long red robe and not your typical Santa hat.

The 86-year-old man admits to doing over a 1,000 such events in the past 50 years. His latest was last week at Radford University’s “Breakfast with Santa”, which has become an annual event dating back to the late 80s and is normally sold out with a waiting list.

“I love doing this and adding the story telling twist to it,” he said earlier this week. His persona has the normal white beard, which has not been shaved since he started performing the character.

“My wife has never seen me without it (the beard),” he joked.

He grew up in northern Virginia with a father that was a storyteller of sorts himself. “My dad was a tour guide, so I guess I gained that from him.”
But it wasn’t until he moved to the New River Valley that things really took a Christmas turn. He had been a wood carver for over 50 years and when doing a show in Pittsburgh, Santa didn’t show up. So, the promoter asked him to step in.

The rest is history as he has taken the character to a new level especially when your normal five-year-old asks him questions like: “How do you get around the world all in one night?”

“The questions are unbelievable, so I had to step up my game, and most of my answers just come to me at that moment in time,” Evans said.

He says the book “The Flight of the Reindeer” helps with some of those answers. The rest have just come with his own style of storytelling.

Early on, he decided he wanted his garb to be more authentic. Thus, he did some research and came up with the long red robe and brown rugged hat that is not typical of your normal Santa character.  This includes no fake beard, thus his every day white whiskers.

Father Christmas speaks to a youngster during a recent appearance at Radford University.

He lives at the base of Mountain Lake in Giles County and has become known for his clay gnomes which he still sells at craft shows around the country. But this time of year, it’s Father Christmas that takes up most of his time.

He does take a day or so to cut “reindeer” antlers into buttons, which he places in a bag and has every child that comes up to visit him during the “breakfasts with Santa” reach in and pull one out to take home.

“I tell the story about the reindeer and how they have shed the antlers and how I make them into the buttons,” Evans said.

Wednesday, he spent close to six hours making buttons for an upcoming appearance.

“It’s just something that I can tell the kids about and create more of a story during individual visits,” he said.

Of course, many people wonder why he keeps doing it. “Well, I just look into the faces and eyes of those looking at me and see their joy. I have seen as many as three generations of some families at events like the one at Radford University,” he continued.

He admits his tour of duty is slowly coming to an end. Of course, he is 786 years old in North Pole age, but hopes to be live till the ripe old age of 900.

“I tell the audience that my father was Santa and when he got tired, he called me to the North Pole. I guess I will have to do the same someday.”

For now, he will just continue to tell us the story of Father Christmas and how the legend was born.

Evans, aka Father Christmas will be appearing Sunday at the Mt. Lake Hotel’s annual event.