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The man behind the white beard

art beingclauseSo, just who is the “Smokey Mountain Santa”? After an appearance last week at North Canton Elementary School, Santa and Mrs. Claus (Dennis and Deborah Reed) made note of all the joy and support they’ve not only received from the community, but also aim to spread and share day in and day out. 

From Nov. 1 through Dec. 25, they attend upwards of 75 events, sometimes three or four a day. It’s school fundraisers and food drives, gathering meals for less fortunate families and entertaining guests at the Biltmore Inn. It’s visiting nursing homes and the Charles George VA Medical Center (Dennis is a Vietnam veteran). It’s about making sure the mesmerizing nature of Christmas — its message of love and sharing — never vanishes within an earshot of the Reeds. 

The couple took a moment to sit down with The Smoky Mountain News to speak about the importance that folks of all ages share in the true spirit of Christmas, in Haywood County and beyond.

Smoky Mountain News: How did all of this begin?

Dennis Reed: We’re both from Haywood County. I’m retired from the paper mill in Canton, and have been doing this for 14 years.

Deborah Reed: Fourteen years ago, we started a focus group, which I’m president of, in Canton after the two devastating floods in downtown. And through the community business leaders, we wanted to do something to bring people back to town and show them we haven’t washed away, which is where the idea for “The Smokey Mountain Santa” came about.

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SMN: And with that, you are always doing a lot of charity and community work.

Deborah Reed: We try to raise funds and food for those who may go without. Right now, one of the things we’ve partnered in is with the Food Lion in Canton, where we were able to put together dinner baskets, all donated items, for 88 families within the community. 

Dennis Reed: We go to several nursing homes. And there is this 102-year-old lady and another who is 103. They sit on my knee and they become children again. These little old ladies have a twinkle in their eye and say, “Oh, Santa, I love you.”

SMN: What’s it like to be in the character of Santa and Mrs. Claus?

Dennis Reed: When the children come and give you a big hug, and you see the joy in their face, it just moves you. The more you do, the more you get. The more you help people, the bigger your heart gets. It’s a year-round thing, too. We go to the beach and I’m wearing red swimming trunks and red Crocs. It’s like being the Pier Piper of the beach. 

Deborah Reed: We do this year-round to help people at the community at all times — it’s a blessing. It opens up doors that otherwise wouldn’t have been in front of us. You talk to people and they just open right up to you. It breaks down barriers and allows us to learn some many incredible stories and things about people. No matter who you are or what your beliefs are or where you came from, everyone always talks to Santa.

SMN: Any words of wisdom for our readers heading into the holidays?

Dennis Reed: Just have love for one another, and care for each other. Just think what a great world it’d be if everyone loved and cared for each other. That’s the true spirit of Christmas.

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