Monday, December 03, 2012
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Special feature from LDN magazine:

 Home for the Holidays

The transforming power of the season: Believing and being your best

By Nila Smith

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[December 03, 2012]  Yes, Virginia... there is a Santa Claus... and there is a Santa Claus... and there is a Santa Claus.

It's that time of year when parents may be facing a particular challenge. As kids get a little older, they start to realize that the Santa they see at the mall, the one on TV and the one at the Christmas parade are not the same guy. This may cause them to pose questions about how and why there are so many different Santas and which one of them is real.

LDN has found the answer. First of all, they are all real, but none of them is really Santa. They are, however, chosen by Santa to serve as his ambassadors, if you will, during the holiday season.

In the Lincoln and Logan County area, there are at least four such ambassadors who frequent local businesses, schools, parties and other holiday events, much to the delight of young and old alike.

Among them is Terry Bell, who for half of the year is just plain old Terry Bell, but along about July and August a transformation begins. The big man at the North Pole starts working his magic, and Bell becomes a very convincing Santa substitute.

The magic begins with the beard, says Bell. This year it began taking shape in July, and right now it is at full length and looking really good, though before next week it will probably turn a little whiter.

Bell likened his transformation to the movie starring Tim Allen, "The Santa Clause." In that movie an unfortunate accident transfers the magic of Santa to Allen, and in no time at all he becomes the real thing. Bell said no one replaces the real Santa, but the transformation part of the movie is otherwise pretty accurate.

Through the fall, Bell's beard has continued to grow, and he has become more recognizable as Santa, much to the delight of many area children. Bell says they know who he is just by seeing the beard. He doesn't have to have the red suit and cap for children to come running to talk to him about their wishes for the coming Christmas.

Bell recalled: "We were in Wal-Mart the other day and heard kids running in another aisle. Suddenly they rounded the corner into the aisle we were in and they stopped. ‘You are Santa,' they said."

Bell said he confirmed that he was Santa and visited with the kids awhile; then they were happy to go on their way, knowing they had a head start on delivering their Christmas wishes.

Bell also remembered coming across a mom and kids shopping not long ago, and it didn't start out well. Having Santa magic, Bell can see when kids may be teetering off the "nice" list. He asked a little girl if she had been good, and her face fell as she sadly whispered "no."

Now, confessions to Santa are confidential, but Bell said the child had done something that hurt someone she really did care about. He talked to her a few minutes and told her there was still time to get back squarely on the nice list, but she would have to do something to earn it. She needed to go to the person she hurt and sincerely say she was sorry, and then she had to spend the rest of the time between now and Christmas being as good as she could possibly be.

The little girl was quite relieved to know she could fix her naughtiness and promised she would do exactly what she was told.

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Bell also works for Santa in visiting local schools. He visits with children and collects their letters. He reads the letters and relays messages to the North Pole.

He said some of the letters are very touching and others are somewhat comical, but he and Santa take them all very seriously.

Bell remembered letters he's received just this season. Requests for dolls and games are always big, but sometimes one or two really strike a chord with him. He offered as an example a child who wrote and asked for no toys at all.

The letter said, "I don't want to be an ordinary kid." It went on to say, "I want to be remembered."

Bell said those letters and the ones that mention parents who are ill or having some kind of problem really tug at his heartstrings.

Many of the letters include inquiries about the elves, the reindeer and even Mrs. Claus.

One letter in particular this year brought joy to Bell and Santa as well, as a youngster said all he wanted was to come and live with Santa, work at the North Pole and be exactly like him.

Bell said being Santa is something that he loves to do, and it has really become a big part of his life.

Those who know Bell know that he is a three-time cancer survivor. His first opportunity to be Santa came while he was battling the disease.

Bell said it was a tough time, and he wasn't the happiest person around, but taking on the persona of Santa for the Lincoln Christmas Parade started a change in him. Maybe that, too, was part of the Santa magic.

That first time, he wore a Santa suit that had belonged to the father of a good friend. He called and asked if he could borrow the suit, and the friend said, "No... but you can have it." The suit was over 50 years old and just loaded with Santa magic.

Bell wore a fake beard that year, but the real beard started coming in by the next fall, and for his second Christmas, Santa Bell was the real thing.

Because of his experiences, Bell said he makes a Santa visit each year to the cancer treatment ward at Memorial Hospital, where he visits with adults who are working to win a battle. He marvels at how they receive him, because he can see that even though they are grown, they still believe in the power of wishes, and therefore, they still believe in Santa.

Bell says Santa Claus is not really about making lists, writing letters and getting gifts; it's about giving, believing and having faith.

For him, it's about giving joy to kids and adults; it's about giving back to a community that is important to him; and it's about being happy and having that wonderful Christmas spirit every day of the year.

And, he says having that spirit is not all that difficult. All one has to do is be the best person they know how to be every day of the year, care about others and believe in the magic.


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