St. Nicholas – played by Dave Horejsi, parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Balsam Lake – leaves treats and a prayer for children during their religious education classes Dec. 7. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

“When I was little, my Dad was in the Knights. Every Christmas, we’d go to the church basement for their Christmas party, and we’d all get a bag of candy from Santa,” Dave Horejsi remembers.

Horejsi started offering his Santa services to his home parish of Our Lady of the Lake in Balsam Lake five years ago when a Sunday morning “Treats with Santa” event was started.

“It really took off well,” Horejsi said, adding that it is a “good thing for the parish.”

This Advent was the second year he added playing St. Nicholas to his repertoire. While he wears the same wig and beard for both, the Santa suit dates back 50 years, when he and his brothers began carrying on a family tradition. It was purchased when Horejsi’s own children were infants.

One of a family of 10 siblings, Horejsi and his family would gather at his mother’s home on Christmas Eve. After the meal, Santa would stop in for a visit and give each of the grandchildren a present. The memories were made with their own grandchildren for years, although their youngest grandchild is now 17.

His wife, LaVonne, remembers her family’s childhood celebration of St. Nicholas – not with shoes left out, but waking up to a bowl of nuts and candies left by the saint.

This year, St. Nicholas was caught off guard when he was asked to step into the church where the parish children wanted to ask some questions.

When one child asked what his first miracle was, Horejsi chuckled, recounting his improvised response, “It was so long ago, I don’t exactly remember.” However when another question was asked by one of the teachers – “What was he known for?” St. Nicholas told how he would sell his belongings and use the coins to purchase freedom for young people in bondage.

Another child asked St. Nicholas if he had just come from the North Pole. Horejsi asked if he knew that St. Nicholas wasn’t exactly Santa Claus.

“St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children,” he announced. “If you have a problem, you can pray to him,” he added, but has decided he’d like to spend more time preparing for next year’s feast day.

“Kids aren’t looking for long-winded speeches,” Horejsi said. “They just want to believe.”

For the visits with Santa, LaVonne helps by taking photos of the children with Santa. She then prints them out and puts them in card frames for families to collect at the next weekend’s Masses.

As Santa, Horejsi reminds the children, so excited to see him, that “Jesus is the reason for the season” and to “Keep Christ in Christmas.”