By Kathy Knotts
Santa has a lot of helpers this time of year. Some with full flowing white beards or ornate costumes. Some even nail the rosy cheeks and jolly laugh. Regardless of where you find them, they are all Santa’s helpers, because that guy is busy. Really busy.
We asked readers who they thought was the best ambassador to the North Pole, here in Chesapeake Country. We got a blizzard of nominations, but one rose to the top of the Christmas tree quickly.
Meet Santa Rick of Westfield Mall in Annapolis.
Also known as Rick Brady of Riva, this is only the second season he has sat in the “big chair” for the shopping center. But he has already earned a reputation as being the real thing in what matters: joy.
“Santa Rick at Westfield Mall is so wonderful!” stated one commenter on our Facebook page. “No matter how long his line is he takes time to make each and every child feel heard and loved! He has a great beard and hair but more importantly he has real joy in his eyes!”
Colleen Brady Stephenson wrote, “Santa Rick @ Annapolis Mall is the best! The magic in his eyes and the Ho Ho Ho come from deep in his heart. He even spreads his Christmas cheer to your furry friends too. He gets our vote hands (and paws) down.” She submitted a photo of her dog with Santa.
When we told Brady he had been named Chesapeake Country’s favorite Santa, he said, “It’s an honor I will take to my grave.”
Brady has been very busy. While the job is seasonal, it’s a six-week gig every night of the week starting before Thanksgiving and running till Christmas Eve.
But he is thankful things are somewhat back to normal after the COVID Christmas of 2020. His first season taking requests from children was done fully masked and distanced from his loyal fans.
Working last year during the pandemic was a little disappointing, Brady said. “This year they are sitting on my knee, in close contact, telling me excitedly what’s on the top of their Christmas list. I just put my faith in the Lord and Pfizer.”
The pandemic actually helped Brady secure his position as Top Elf. “It was my COVID hair and beard that got me the job I think. My daughter worked at the mall and said ‘Dad, you are looking a lot like Santa and we need a second Santa right now.’ So I applied and got the job.”
Santa says the best part of his job is meeting the children. “Far and away, that’s the best part. And the parents are appreciative of the time the kids can spend with me. I try to talk to them as much as I can without creating a huge backup. And they have lots of stories to tell. I want to be an ear for them so they can tell me all their excited wants and needs at Christmas.”
Brady has provided his knee to babies as young as two weeks old and to a group of senior citizens meeting for a holiday lunch, who wanted a photo reminder of their time together.
Santa says he is careful to never promise something to a child, but he will often turn down a request for a live animal or a cell phone. “Usually there is a parent there, in the background, giving me a thumbs up or down while their child tells me their list.”
This Santa still has a few days left of work, but he lets us know he is “very jolly, at least for the next several days.”