Santa Claus is coming to town … or he may already be here.
Each Christmas season, Petal attorney Glenn White suits up to play Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, and he does it out of a “love for children and a love for toys.”
“I also just love the Christmas season, and I love to spread holiday cheer,” White, 67, said.
The former district attorney – who served the 12th Judicial District in various positions for nearly 20 years before opening a private law practice in the Friendly City – started playing the role of Father Christmas about 15 years ago. He was often told that he resembled Santa, and his wife, Robin, encouraged him to take up the act.
“She got online and found me a Santa outfit, and I started playing Santa Claus to all the little kids throughout the neighborhood and the area,” he said. “One year, I was able to even deceive my granddaughter, and I figured … well, that’s pretty good. I love doing it.”
Now, White dons his red suit for a number of public and private appearances in and around the Hub City throughout the holiday season. He enjoys playing the jolly role for neighbors, friends and family members, but he especially delights in dressing up as Kriss Kringle for children who may need a little joy in their lives.
For several years, White has appeared as Santa at Hattiesburg Police Department functions that benefit needy children.
“The police department does a phenomenal job every year – with service organizations and Southern Miss football coaches – of reaching out to underprivileged children in our community,” he said. “I started playing Santa for them at their Christmas benefits, and, one year, we had an event at the C. E. Roy Community Center. There were a number of homicides that year, and the entire center was filled with toys and food for the little ones who’d lost a parent. That was a tearjerker, but it was a moving experience … and I realized I could bring some cheer to those who need it most.”
His affiliation with the police department has led to other Santa gigs in Hattiesburg, including appearances at the annual tree lighting ceremony at Town Square Park.
“I started doing that, and I like those opportunities,” White said. “I take pictures with children and listen to them. I get there early, and I stay there until the last child leaves.”
White is often accompanied on his Santa-related adventures by his niece, Savanna Thompson of Petal, who acts as his elf. Thompson has Williams syndrome, which is a genetic condition that causes medical problems, developmental delays and learning challenges.
“Her disorder causes her to see no fault in anyone … and she loves everybody,” he said. “It’s been said that people with Williams syndrome have elfish features, so she’s my special elf. People love to have their picture taken with Savanna.”
In addition to his seasonal appearances in the Hattiesburg area, White often takes his Saint Nick act on the road. Last year, he was asked by former Mississippi Supreme Court Associate Justice Randy “Bubba” Pierce to visit foster children in Greene County. He has also visited numerous courthouses, including the one in Poplarville, to spread tidings of joy.
“As a lawyer, I’m an actor in the courtroom, so to speak, but playing Santa is so much more fun,” White said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, White has curtailed many of his traditional appearances, but he said he is working to adapt to the year’s unusual circumstances.
“It’s been hard, but my three grown children have told me to behave because I’m in a high-risk category,” he said. “I can’t have children sit on my lap for photo opportunities, and I can’t go to houses this year, but I’m starting to do some Zoom conferences.”
His 2020 schedule will also include some “drive-by” Santa appearances.
“I look forward to things being back to normal, to next Christmas … where I can do everything I usually do again,” he said.
The Christmas season has always been a special time of the year for White, who was born in London to a father who served in the United States Navy and a mother who survived the German bombings of the English capital during the height of World War II in the early 1940s.
“Christmas was always the highlight of the year in my family,” he said. “My parents didn’t have much growing up, and our Christmases were always about food, nuts, hard candy … and doing for others what we could. We’d always attend midnight Mass, and the holiday meant church – believing in the true reason for the season – and family, and, of course, fun.”
White – who does not charge a fee for his appearances – said his payments come in the form of smiling faces and in his delight in sharing the jubilations of the season.
“I get so many blessings from being Santa, from acting like a fool and having fun … and from seeing the happiness children display when they see me in costume,” he said. “I tell people all the time, the Good Lord blessed me to look this way, and I get the blessings of being able to get in character and make Christmas special.”