PASO ROBLES — Santa Claus was nearly brought to tears by two 8-year-olds at the Holiday House in Downtown Paso Robles.

Thursday afternoon, Dec. 10, cousins Keziah Lizarraga and Aronn Silva, carrying two plastic shopping bags stuffed full with wrapped gifts, approached Santa. Keziah’s mom, Miriam Lizarraga, trailed behind.

With big smiles and a bounce in their step, the two children stopped in front of Santa and handed the bags to Santa.

“We want you to have these and give them to children,” the pair said.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

“Thank you,” said Charles Themens, who dresses as Santa for the Paso Robles Downtown Main Street Association and sits in the Holiday House from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily through Christmas Eve.

Charles Themens says he enjoys playing Santa for the Paso Robles Downtown Main Street Association. Photo by Brian Williams

Themens talked with the children and took photos with them before they ran across Downtown City Park to the playground.

“We bought some little toys and came to the Park to give them to children. To help with Christmas spirit,” said Miriam Lizarraga. “Then we saw Santa and gave them to him so he can give them out.”

The white with green trim Holiday House is located in the Downtown City Park next to the Park’s main entrance at 12th and Park streets across from the iconic Acorn Building.

Themens, who lives in Camp Nelson, has been Santa for Main Street since 2019. He’s visited by hundreds of children over the three weeks at the Holiday House, telling him their Christmas wishes.

“Magical, fulfilling, and touching,” Themens said of being Santa. “These kids, they come like this and bring these gifts unannounced to give to other children. Especially in 2020, these kids need to have hope and I think Santa is that even though I know that God and Christ is more of a hope, but for a God-incarnate walking on this Earth, I could be Santa to bring some hope to the kids’ hearts and minds.”

Themens donned the Santa outfit for the first time last year and grew his first beard.

“It was an accident that happened at the Paso Robles Downtown Main Street Association board meeting, and Norma (Moye) needed a Santa because the Santa we’d had for years passed away,” Themens said. “I said, ‘you know what, I’ve never even grown a beard, I will grow my beard starting now.’ That was in June of last year I grew it. Now I grow it six months on and six months off.”

His Santa suit resembles the one worn by Kurt Russell in “Christmas Chronicles,” with brown fur accents instead of the traditional white.

“When I said I was going to be Santa, I wanted to be something a little different,” Themens said. “I watched a movie with Kurt Russell, ‘Christmas Chronicles.’ I typed in ‘Christmas Chronicles’ outfit and a company contacted me and asked me to write down my measurements and had it built for me. I just ordered two more. Hopefully, I will become known for this outfit, a little change-up.”

Themens will be playing Santa at the Vine Street Victorian Showcase on Saturday, Dec. 12 and Dec. 19. The annual event is changing to a drive-by held from 6 to 8 p.m. on the two Saturdays.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the Paso Robles Downtown Main Street Association modified the usual celebration.

The community is asked to remain in their vehicles and drive on Vine Street and view the decorated homes between 8th and 21st streets.

Santa will be joined by Mrs. Claus, an elf, and the Snow King and Queen. They will be in Santa’s sleigh cruising on Vine Street.

Themens said he would be Santa for as long as he can.

“No question. I will do this probably until the day I die,” he said. “I enjoy it. I enjoy the kids and the parents. I love coming down here and giving some joy to the kids.”