SARAH MEEKER -Courier correspondent

OTTUMWA — A No-Shave November several years ago brought forth a bit of a surprise for Tracy Songer.

“I got a late start growing my beard and I still won the contest. My once black beard had grown in white,” he recalled. “When someone made a Santa comment I shaved it off. I wasn’t ready for that.”

It turned out, he would have to be.

A year later Songer accepted the invite to be Santa at a friend’s “Cookies With Santa” event that Songer found himself hooked.

“I figured I have the beard so I might as well use it,” he said. “I bought my first Santa suit off a guy online for $30. I wore it for sometime until some friends from church gathered together and purchased the nice suit I wear now.

“I could stand on a roof all day in this suit.”

Even when Songer is not in his Santa attire, children and grown-ups alike still greet him with hugs and ask for a photograph.

“Every child deserves to see Santa without cost,” he said. “We are so fortunate to live where we do and to have the lives we have. Today I met two teenagers from the inner city of Chicago who had never seen Santa except on TV. It was a neat experience to see them react and experience Santa.”

Songer went on to explain that 350 years after Jesus Christ there was a priest who loved people and loved Jesus. This man would put coins in shoes and bring gifts. He was a good man and people today know him as Saint Nick.

“Anyone can be Santa Claus. You just have to love people and love Jesus,” Songer said.

Songer also discussed his favorite things around the Christmas season:

Favorite cookie: warm chocolate chip with just enough milk to dunk it in.

Favorite Christian Christmas song: “O Come, O Come Emanuel.”

Favorite secular Christmas song: Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”

“I’ve been known to spontaneously break out in song with that one,” Songer said.

Favorite reindeer: Donder and Blitzen.

“Those reindeer have grown older and their offspring drive the sleigh,” Songer said with a smile.

Of course the topic of cookies came up. Just what does Santa Tracy look forward to after delivering those Christmas gifts? Nothing other than a warm gooey chocolate chip cookie with just enough milk to dunk it in.

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