The holiday season has always been special to Dave Bennison. And the Challenger Motor Freight driver appreciated his employer’s commitment to schedules that allowed him to be home for Christmas with his two kids.
It’s the type of thing that keeps everyone on the nice list.
This year, the truck driver who has delivered loads of toys for the likes of Walmart, Amazon, Toys R Us, and Costco officially became a Santa Claus in the Just Christmas store in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
“I’ve been in training to become Santa for 30 years,” he says. “When you think about it, a truck driver is like a Santa Claus, because pretty much everything that people get for Christmas has been on a truck, right?”
Reindeer and trucks
Playing this card even comes in handy at his new Santa job – when kids say they want a truck for Christmas, whether a toy one or a real one.
“We get talking about it. ‘Well, you know, Santa actually drives one of those every once in a while.’ And then I’ll bring my phone out and I’ll show the picture of me with the truck and they’re just like blown away,” Bennison says.
“I integrate that and I tell them, ‘Every once in a while, Santa has to give his reindeer a little break. So, when he gives the reindeer a break, he goes and borrows a Challenger truck. And he goes and checks up on all the places and gathers the toys.”
He adds that interacting with kids has been fun and rewarding, especially when children share what’s on their wish list. The other day, a six-year-old girl wished for a real-life ice cream truck.
He might also be the only Santa to tell children to ask for coal as a gift.
This is because Bennison’s Santa character is imbued with his love of history.
Bennison grew the beard, went from dark brown to white hair, dyed it and bleached it, and went “full theater” to prepare for his new role.
Even border officers, along with customers and co-workers, appreciate his new look. They often ask Bennison to come into their workplaces dressed in his Santa costume, which he custom made with help from his wife.
“Most Santas you see around are the typical Coca-Cola 1930s style. But I actually went back in time and did a more traditional St. Nicholas, Father Christmas style. And then I integrate history into my Santa. So, it’s a more historic-looking Santa Claus. And it’s been amazing – I meet a thousand people on a weekend, and hundreds and hundreds of kids, and they’re just loving it.”
A sense of Niagara-on-the-Lake history
The costume and its history are always a conversation starter for adults, who he draws into discussions about Niagara-on-the-Lake’s history.
He playfully asks people if they’re on the naughty or nice list. If they claim to be naughty, Bennison presents them with a piece of coal. He then shares the history of the coal, revealing that it comes from a shipwreck in Lake Erie.
He tells people about the historical significance of coal, emphasizing that in the past, receiving coal was considered a positive gift, especially in Europe because it played a crucial role in heating homes.
“I have kids who will say, ‘Can I have a piece of coal too? Because I love that story.’ And they just sit there, hearing this story about the shipwrecks,” Bennison says.
“People just love it – so I can’t give away enough coal.”
Life has indeed prepared Bennison for this role. He has been collecting that coal off the Lake Erie shore in springtime for years, not knowing one day he would be giving it away to kids, their families and tourists, leaving them with a Christmas ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’ and a piece of Niagara-on-the-Lake history to take home.
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