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When the City of Kelowna goes to light-up the downtown Christmas style, they call on Tom Kliner. For 19 years he's been donning the red suit at this time of year. We got him to make room in his busy schedule to talk about what it's like to play the 'Jolly Old Elf'.
This time last year, Kliner was just recovering from a near-fatal motorcycle crash, but he managed to get into the red suit anyway. "I was just able through a lot of struggling and a good team working with me to get me better, I was just able to do Santa."
He mainly credits his wife for getting him back on the sleigh for Christmas. "She basically had to do everything for me."
Kliner weighed-in on the circumstances surrounding a fellow professional Santa in Penticton. Gary Haupt was fired after "naughty" Santa Photos found their way onto Facebook.
The photos were taken away from work and on his own time. Kliner called the mall's response to the situation: "definitely overkill."
"It's kind of unfortunate that we live in a world now where everybody feels they have the right to be offended," said Klein, "and those rights trump other people's."
Still, Haupt's situation was another reminder for Kliner that being a Santa to realize that everything he does could come under scrutiny. "It is something you do have to realize," he said. "You are in a sense, a public figure."
For Kliner, playing the role of Santa has become his life's greatest joy.
"It is the most fun you will ever have," he said, adding that he thrives on the enthusiasm that children have about everything. "The world is new," he added. "It's still a good place."
But there are some sad moments too. "I've been brought to tears a couple of times," admitted Kliner. One day in particular sticks in his mind. "When this child came and sat with me and asked to be cancer-free, and it wasn't too long after we had lost one of our own kids."
Even those sad moments are an opportunity for a Santa to provide some comfort, even if he can't grant a wish.
Kliner started being a Santa, in part, because he needed a job. But it's turned into his life's greatest gift.
It's not the wonder that he brings into the lives of children that keep him returning to the role of Santa, it's the wonder they bring into his.
"It's overwhelming and very enlightening to see the world back through the child's eyes," he said. "And you get to see what you now take for granted."
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