December 15, 2023 - 10:22 am
To say this is Charles Bullen Jr.’s busy time of the year may be a bit of an understatement.
No, he’s not in retail or the travel industry and he doesn’t deliver packages out of a big, brown van. But what he does deliver are smiles to hundreds of children as he dons his red and white outfit and black boots. You guessed it – he’s Santa.
More than a dozen years ago Bullen was asked to step into those famous boots to portray Santa at a local event. And that’s all it took. He was hooked. Since then, he’s been the star attraction at the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce’s electric light parade and tree lighting as well as numerous other events throughout Boulder City.
“I’ve always been a social bug and I’ve always loved kids,” he said. “Raising kids and having grandkids has helped. I’ve always thought this was a good way to give back to the community and put a smile on a kid’s face. It’s very humbling, especially when you get asked certain things or there are certain requests. They don’t always ask for gifts.”
He said while the vast majority are happy requests, not all have been. One little girl asked for her brother to come back from the hospital, where he later died. Others have asked for peace in their household and that their mom and dad stop arguing or ask that loved ones return from war.
“Sometimes it can be a little tough,” he said.
Bullen was quick to agree that being one of Santa’s helpers comes with a lot of responsibility, especially when meeting with those who still believe. You’ve got to be jolly and in the Christmas spirit when putting that famous suit on. And yes, the beard is real. You can’t show your own emotions because you need to be joyful and sincere at the same time. And, he said, one has to really listen to the kids and let them know that there’s a Santa.
“I think a good Santa is one who is, of course jolly, and takes times to listen to each individual,” he said. “A mall Santa takes the picture and has them move on. I’m not that guy. I’ve never asked or received anything from the community (monetarily). This is my way of giving back because in a town this size, I think it’s important that we all do our part.”
Bullen, who has worked at Hoover Dam for many years, said he always wore a goatee but one year decided to let the full beard grow in.
“I’ve never had a bad experience with a child but once, a boy tried to run off with my beard,” he said, laughing. “His older brother put him up to it. He came back later and apologized. I think after he walked away, he may have thought to himself that that was the real Santa.”
While he’s watched how Kris Kringle has been portrayed in movies like the original “Miracle on 34th Street,” he said he’s never tried to emulate any others but rather he just stays true to himself and his own portrayal of the jolly one. But there is one that sticks out in his mind.
“My earliest memory of Santa was at the JC Penney,” he said. “That’s back when they still had the catalog and you go in and order gifts and then you picked them up there. Santa was there every year in our little town. My brother and I could not wait to see him. That’s one of my most memorable moments with Santa.”
Even when he’s not dressed as Santa, Bullen said it’s not uncommon for him to be recognized when he’s out and about.
“I can be in Albertsons or Walmart and a little kid will be staring at me,” he said. “I’ll often go over and ask how they’re doing and then they’ll ask if I’m Santa. I tell them, ‘Yes I am but I’m out shopping for stuff because Santa has to shop, too.’
“My most memorable moment was when I was on a trolley in Honolulu and this kid turns to his mom and said, ‘That’s Santa.’ I said, ‘Yes, Santa is on vacation. Shhhhhh.’ He was just fascinated. He talked to me the entire way and told me how good he’s been. It makes you feel good. That’s my seal of approval.”
On those lines he added, “I feel like a celebrity in Boulder City, that’s for sure. It’s a very good feeling because again, I’m giving something back and helping people smile. It allows them to forget about the everyday stress of work, raising families and the hustle and bustle of life.”
According to Chamber CEO Jill Rowland Lagan, this year’s light parade drew its largest crowd ever. Bollen was not surprised.
“My hat’s off to Jill and her staff for putting on a first-class parade,” said Bullen, who’s active in the Elks and Rotary. “People stay the entire time. We’re the last float in the parade and you see that everyone has stayed. That’s a good feeling and says a lot about Boulder City.”