Real Life

Real life: I'm the barefoot Santa Claus

Spreading good cheer helps me to heal.

By As told to Take 5

Colin Betts, 58, from Gympie, Qld, shares his story of how he brings holiday cheer to his community.

Walking in town, I was wearing a red shirt and my beard had gone all grey.

A little boy pointed to me.

"Look, Mum, that's Santa Claus," he said.

"Don't say that," his mum said, feeling embarrassed.

"Oh, it's okay, I'm Santa's little brother," I replied, thinking on my feet.

"Santa lives in the North Pole. And I live here in Gympie."

The boy's face lit up with a smile.

"Be good for Mum and Santa will know," I said.

The incident gave me an idea.

I was on a disability allowance and couldn't work.

But that didn't mean I couldn't spread good cheer over the Christmas season.

With my long grey beard, kids thought I was Santa!
With my long grey beard, kids thought I was Santa!

So I bought a Santa suit and walked up and down the street saying hello to everyone I met.

I took a few pictures dressed up as Santa, got them printed and handed them out.

Soon, I was being invited to malls and shopping centres to sit as Santa.

A lot of people asked me why I was calling myself Santa's little brother.

"Santa's Santa," I replied. "You can't take the thunder off him."

I wanted kids to believe that the real Santa would be coming on his sleigh on Christmas Eve.

From then on, I'd wear my Santa suit in early November until after Christmas.

I started a countdown with a big sign 10 weeks before Christmas.

Kids can't relate to any more than 10 because they've got 10 fingers and it helps them to work their numbers out.

Counting down with my new dog Rosey.
Counting down with my new dog Rosey.

I've always been a spiritual person and liked to walk around barefoot as I felt the soles of my feet connected me to the soul of the earth.

So even when I stood for hours on end in the blazing hot sun on Queensland's Bruce Highway waving at people in my Santa suit, I did it barefoot.

I became known as the Barefoot Santa.

Sometimes I got paid to go to nursing homes or malls, but most of my appearances were done for free.

I found it emotionally fulfilling because my own family and I had been estranged.

One day on a bus, I noticed two kids giving their mum a hard time.

I love spreading holiday cheer.
I love spreading holiday cheer.

I took out the Santa picture and gave it to the kids.

"Help your mum and Santa will be happy," I said.

"Oh, thank you, Colin," the mum said to me.

"Do you know me?" I asked.

"I was 12 when you gave me your Santa pic," she said. "It's on my fridge."

I was tickled pink to have my Santa legacy live on through two generations.

Sometimes, I got the strangest requests – to take photos with cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rats and reptiles.

My old dog Elu.
My old dog Elu.

Other times could be quite hard.

One year, a six-year-old said she didn't want presents but could I hug all the poor people in the world.

That choked me up.

I've also had kids ask to bring mummy or daddy back from heaven.

Last year, I suffered a cruel blow when I lost my belongings and my dog Elu, 13, in a house fire.

I battled with PTSD.

Being Santa saved me, for I knew I couldn't give up.

Families were counting on me to spread joy.

I hope what I do helps spread laughter and happiness.

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