For three of the last four years, Ed Taylor, an Internet marketing consultant based in Ashland, has been growing his whiskers and donning a custom-made, red and white suit for his moonlighting gig as Santa Claus at Ashland's annual Grand Illumination.
"It's pretty much getting dressed, waving and being in the right spirit," says Taylor of the holiday lighting, which draws about 15,000 people annually.
Job title: Santa Claus.
Job description: "Spreading joy and happiness and gifts worldwide."
Salary: "Love and affection and hugs and smiles."
Education: Extensive professional training in toy making and nighttime sleigh navigation.
How long on the job: "Forever."
If you could have your dream job today, what would it be? "The same thing it's always been — spreading joy and love and goodwill and gifts. It doesn't get any better than that."
Sponsored for the past 16 years by the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Illumination marks a dramatic start to the city's season-long Festival of Light. At dusk the Friday after Thanksgiving, Taylor rides down Main Street as part of Santa's Parade. Then he and Mrs. Claus ascend to the balcony of Alex's Restaurant on the Ashland Plaza, where they ring in the holiday season by signaling the illumination of more than one million lights that have been strung all over Ashland.
Following the lighting and a jolly thank-you speech that mentions Chamber organizers, lighting teams and parade participants, Santa heads to his "workshop" at the Black Swan Theater. There he offers hugs and a patient ear to youngsters.
"I really try to embody the Santa Claus personality and spirit of it all," says the bewhiskered Taylor.
Mary Pat Parker, the director of public relations and marketing for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, calls Taylor the "absolute perfect-looking Santa Claus."
"He keeps in complete character and I'm not kidding when I say there is such a wonderful thing that happens when kids see him," says Parker, who works as "Santa's Secret Service" during the Grand Illumination. "Last year, my favorite moment of the day was when I saw a little girl who was sitting on her dad's shoulders. Santa stopped and touched her on the top of her head and said, 'Ho! Ho! Ho!' There was just that magic-thing moment that she'll remember for the rest of her life — she was convinced this was the real deal."
Taylor's a popular Saint Nick, also appearing at the Festival of Trees, Jacksonville's Victorian Christmas and other regional events.