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And he lives here

Whatever it is about Santa Claus that makes you smile, forget your worries and love your fellow human — whether it’s inspired by Coke ads, movies or schmaltzy holiday carols — Ed Taylor of Talent has that thing and has become one of the most in-demand Santas in America.

The roly-poly Taylor with his huge and natural white beard didn’t set out to be a master of holly-jolly Christmas cheer, but rather fell into it a dozen years ago, when a friend got sick and asked him to sub in a Santa gig in Ashland.

“I was reluctant to do it, but right away I fell in love with how people responded, not so much to me as to Santa Claus," Taylor says. "I started volunteering in Ashland and did it for seven years, then got invited to do it at a mall in Los Angeles for Microsoft, for money. It felt really odd accepting money to be Santa, but I saw the impact I was having, especially with children, and I decided to go all in with it.”

Now, with wife Lori as Ms. Claus in 10 percent of his gigs, the 62-year-old Taylor gets $250 for the first half hour and $100 for each half hour after that, doing Christmas tree lightings, corporate Christmas parties, parades, house parties and you name it, all around the Los Angeles area through November and December each year.

The Taylors rent a house in L.A. for the holidays and have an agent for television commercials, which have become a mainstay of his “Santa Adventure,” as he calls it. This year, Taylor has appeared in TV commercials for Chrysler, Band-Aid, Reddi Wip and Meijer, a giant supermarket chain in the Midwest.

An instant classic, the 90-second Meijer spot shows Taylor walking around town in street clothes, ignored by adults but instantly recognized by children, who are suddenly infused with magic, generosity and cheer. One boy offers Santa a cookie. He pats his overly abundant tummy and declines, after which the boy's mom apologizes and says, “That’s not Santa,” but the lad looks back lovingly while Santa shushes him with a finger to his lips. Then one word appears on the screen: “believe,” followed by “We’ve got everything else you need.”

Unless you’re Scrooge himself, the spot is guaranteed to jerk a tear. It’s at Taylor’s page: http://santaed.com/tv-commercials.

“It’s crazy. There’s a lot going on. I’ve been working hard,” says Taylor. “The first time I did it, at Ashland Springs Hotel, I sat in that chair and felt like myself but in a higher place of love, hope, charity and consideration for others. People get it. It’s not about me trying to project it but rather bringing out the best part of me, even in the TV commercial. I’m having fun.

“The way I present me, very personally, is my higher self, the best part of me. That is what people see in Santa, whether through a religious lens … as long as you get away from merchandising anything for Santa. It’s love. It’s wanting to take care of those around you. It’s mixed with justice, because he has a naughty and nice list and wants to reward nice behavior. He gives coal as a reminder not to have a cold heart but make it a warmer heart.”

Taylor, a Southern California native, moved to Ashland in 1996. He gives up to 100 internet marketing seminars a year and thinks of himself as a communicator, which is what he does as Santa, but without the speeches. He wishes people a merry Christmas, not trying to be PC with “happy holidays,” but does use the broader greeting when he sees menorahs around.

Taylor just lit up the tree for an Air Force base and, in coming weeks he’ll be ho-ho-ho-ing it at the cast-and-crew party for Ellen DeGeneres, the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce and an annual guild party for L.A. writers and editors. He gives an online Santa school, which has 800 members and costs $197. It’s the largest one in the world, he says.

“I’m one of the top Santas right now in the market of west L.A., where people are willing to pay a reasonably high rate for me to show up at parties," he says. "In Medford, I couldn’t charge anywhere near what I charge here.”

It’s an amazing career but one he certainly didn’t plan for.

“It was totally unexpected. I had no idea I would be putting on the Santa Claus suit. I’ve spent a lot of hours wrestling with the idea of identifying with Santa. It felt really strange to me. I had a reputation in the business world to think about. It took several years for me to get my head around this. I thought of it as community service, then it said jump all in.

"I’ve been incredibly blessed by it all. I feel the spirit of Christmas to help people connect with the moment. Of course, I do a lot of photos. I love the selfie videos people post. I hold the space for Santa.”

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

When he's not in his sleigh, Santa (aka Ed Taylor of Talent) gets around in a vehicle with a tell-tale license plate. Submitted photo