This is Gerard Dietrich's busy season. For the past 46 years the weeks leading up to Christmas have been booked up with home visits, holiday events and weekends at Conestoga Mall in Waterloo.
Dietrich is better known to his fans as Santa Claus, but a broken femur has forced the 74-year-old to pack up his red suit and beard this year. He'll be spending the holidays in a hospital bed.
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"It's sad," he told CBC News. "I really like those little boys and girls and coming up and saying, 'I love you Santa.' I love that too. I miss having that opportunity."
As a result of his injury, Dietrich will be in hospital for the next month rehabilitating his leg. Currently he is staying at St. Mary's Hospital in Kitchener but will eventually be transferring to either Freeport Hospital in Kitchener or Cambridge Memorial Hospital for the remainder of his rehabilitation.
Though Dietrich has decades of experience under his belt now, it started when his own kids were little, he said. One night, close to Christmas Day, he got his hands on a red suit, disguised his voice and came in as Santa Claus to surprise his children.
"I really studied all about Santa Claus and all his reindeers," he said. "It went over really well and from that point on, I thought that would be a good idea."
Dietrich started going to corporate events, home visits on Christmas Eve and was Santa Claus at different shopping malls in Kitchener-Waterloo and London, Ont., before landing a regular spot at Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, where he has worked the past eight years.
His wife Jean — Mrs. Claus — by his side.
"It's wonderful because children are what make Christmas," she said. "We use to go to Galleria Mall in London and I was on the side lines because our son Scott was the elf. But after the elf got taller than Santa, Mrs.Claus moved in."
Like his counterpart in Miracle on 34th Street, Dietrich has has taken the time to learn sign language and bits of other spoken languages so he can communicate with children from all backgrounds.
"My favourite part is the interaction between the children, the adults and myself," Dietrich said.
Though he's hung up his red suit this holiday season, Dietrich made sure to pack his Santa Claus beard and wig for his time in the hospital, just in case kids from the children's ward stop by.
This year, Dietrich's finances will take a hit as a result of his injury. His son, Scott Dietrich, has set up a GoFundMe campaign to relieve some of that financial burden.
"This is kind of a neat perspective because Santa is usually the one giving and here is a chance to give back to Santa," Scott told CBC News.
He launched the campaign on Nov. 9 and since then over $1,200 have been raised.