Doug Craig has worn a few different outfits in his long, checkered life.
Having been an accountant, an ordained minister, SAIT instructor, mountain guide and a few other things in his 67 years, Craig is happy these days to concentrate on teaching duties and donning the red and white togs of the professional Santa Claus, a gig he recently picked up.
This holiday, he’s been ho-ho-holding forth in Hillhurst-Sunnyside each weekend, at the Kensington Christmas Market.
“Going pro” is perfect for Craig, who in real life bears a striking resemblance to Old Saint Nick. Those white whiskers and long hair are his own, not a product of the makeup suite.
One recent day, on the eve of the holidays, Craig agreed to sit down and talk about the many twists and turns that have led up to his current, happy state.
Craig’s introduction to SAIT came in 1973, when he convinced the associate dean of the business administration program to let him into the college despite the fact he had only completed Grade 11.
He worked hard and graduated as an accounting major with honours in 1975.
But his past life of gangs and violence that had followed him since his childhood, returned. His accounting career fell apart and Craig felt he had hit rock bottom.
“In 1979 when it fell apart. I was arrested and charged with trafficking,” he recalls.
“I lost my job. I didn’t know what to do, because I’d had that life all my life.”
The setback proved to be a turning point for Craig, however.
“I said if I could find a way to get my life back, I would make a commitment to be of service for the rest of my life.”
Craig decided to become an ordained minister, first setting up a church in Red Deer and later one in Calgary.
“I found that I’m fulfilling that obligation. Of course, when you give like that, it comes back tenfold. I never dreamed I’d get the gifts that I receive from all the giving, and I do.”
After years as a minister, Craig became an instructor in accounting at SAIT in 1998, where he discovered he loved teaching the hands-on practical skills that are the key to the institution.
As a native of Canmore, Alta., Craig knows the Canadian Rockies like his backyard.
So it was a natural progression to begin working in that setting as well, creating a website offering custom mountain tours for anyone interested in exploring the mountains, regardless of their physical fitness.
“I love doing that and I don’t care if people think I’m crazy. They say I’m too old for that stuff.
“They ask me why I do it. It’s very simple: because I can,” he said.
“In the past 20 years, I figure I’d probably done just about a thousand kilometres. I had no problem.”
This Christmas, Craig will visit the streets of Kensington every Saturday from Nov. 26 to Dec. 24 to spread cheer as a professional Santa for his third year in a row.
“Being Santa has a greater responsibility than probably any single figure that you could possibly ever come across,” Craig says.
“Santa transcends culture and religion.”
Craig enrolled in the Calgary Santa School, the first accredited school in Canada to license professional Santas.
The two-day school offers classes on acting, how to answer hard questions from children, special effects makeup and even yoga instruction for the more physically demanding gigs.
“You always can learn, says Craig. “You never go there with an attitude of being unwilling to learn, even if you are a professional already.”
As the semester’s end approached, Craig was busy juggling weekend Santa work and helping students prepare for finals.
“I never used to like Christmas, because I’d had a lot of bad experiences. But after I learned to release the past, I began to like it more and more. I really like the opportunity to make a difference.”
Craig’s wife even dresses up as Mrs. Claus for parties.
He has done all types of Santa events, from family parties to large corporate celebrations.
For the man who loves people more than anything, Craig’s Christmas list is short.
“It’s not about wanting tangible things. I just want to create that joyous experience for my wife and I to share together, and to share with our grandkids and other people that we come across,” he says.
“I just want to be able to do this. That’s all I want for Christmas.”