86-year-old Sarasota resident has been spreading holiday cheer for 55 years

Holidays

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – An 86-year-old bay area man has been spreading holiday magic for generations, taking to the streets every Christmas Eve to create memories that last a lifetime.    

Jerry DeJulia only seems to get better with age. At 86 years old, nailing the role of Santa comes natural to him. After all, he’s been doing this for 55 years!

He spends Christmas Eve visiting young children to make sure they’re good boys and girls.

“I’ll go to the front door and the kids will be there and I’ll talk to each one of them. I’ll tell them I’ll be back later, you be good, you go to bed early,” said DeJulia.

This passion project began in Connecticut in 1964 when he helped out at a friend.

“The Santa that he had for the company Christmas party was sick the last moment, so he asked me and I turned him down,” he recalled.

DeJulia reluctantly accepted. It was memorable for the wrong reasons.

“I was the worst Santa you could see,” said DeJulia. “When I trotted around the room I stumbled and fell and they were all laughing at me.”

But DeJulia decided to keep at it. He started visiting the children of some of his friends and soon word spread.

“It was unbelievable how people called me up,” said DeJulia.

It then became a yearly ritual. On December 24, parents would invite him to dozens of homes in numerous towns to surprise children.

“I was in all kinds of weather, rain storms, ice storms, snow storms, where I couldn’t make hills because of the ice or the snow,” he said. “I never stopped doing it. There were years when I didn’t want to do it because of heavy snow or ice and rain but I still went out.”

Sometimes he’d be sick, other times he’d be chased by dogs. He still pressed on.

He’d appear in front of the children’s windows, put presents under the tree. He’d even appear on rooftops!

“The roof was frozen. I had all I could do to make it to that chimney,” DeJulia remembered.

Now that he lives in Sarasota, he continues the tradition. A letter he received once reveals why.

A grateful parent once wrote:

Childhood innocence passes all too quickly, and we are grateful that through your kindness, our child’s wonderment will last a little bit longer.”

‘It was just a nice thing for the kids, you know? And I tried to make them believe,” he said.

The world can be a scary place, but DeJulia believes a kid should just be a kid.

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