Local Couple Portrays Santa & Mrs. Claus
Writer / Julie Engelhardt
With the holidays upon us, our thoughts turn towards readying for the days ahead which includes gift shopping, decorating our homes and other preparations. Prospect residents Jay Kluckhohn and his wife Amanda Spalding are really no different from the rest of us when it comes to prepping for the season, yet, they have a unique talent — one that our readers need to keep close to the vest. Here’s the scoop: Jay and Amanda are Santa and Mrs. Claus.
OK, so they may not be the ‘actual’ St. Nick and his dear wife, but they certainly play the parts quite well. Jay is a tall, robust, jovial man with rosy red cheeks and a head full of snowy-white hair and a beard to match. In ‘real life’ he is an aircraft mechanic inspector for UPS. Amanda has a kind, nurturing spirit about her, a sweet voice, a warm smile and a twinkle in her eye. In her real life, she is a nurse and Medicare claims review manager for Humana. So how in the world did these two make the decision to portray Santa and Mrs. Claus?
Jay and Amanda first met on a blind date set up by a mutual friend, and it all worked out, for they have been married for 16 years. Generally, new couples will discuss their past, their work, hobbies and interests, but Jay wasn’t reluctant about telling Amanda about his desire to be Kris Kringle.
“I’d been growing my beard for some time, and I told her that I felt like Santa Claus and I thought that I’d be a good Santa,” he says.
Jay’s friend at work, who was portraying Santa at the time, told Jay that he could see him in that role as well. Nothing came of it at first, but three years later a chance meeting with another Louisville Santa convinced Jay to begin pursuing his passion.
“In January of 2017, Amanda and I walked into the Oxmoor Center and saw a man wearing a red coat and red hat, with this magnificent straight white beard that was combed out and styled,” Jay says. “That should have been a hint as to who he was. We walked up to him and after talking, he told me that I would make a good Santa. He suggested we get together some time.”
This man turned out to be Walt Queen, a very well-known Santa in Louisville.
A few weeks later, the three met up again along with another man who portrays Santa. While they were talking, a little girl seated nearby continued to look at Santa Walt.
“She just kept looking and looking at him,” Amanda says. “And Walt just turned it on, and this little girl came up to him and just snuggled up and started talking to him about how she just loved what he brought her for Christmas. It was so magical to see Santa come to life in front of your eyes.”
That did it for Jay. He joined the Kentucky-based Bluegrass Santas, and he and Amanda attended the International Santa Celebration hosted by the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas (IBRBS) in Denver, Colorado in 2018. According to Jay, it was a life-changing experience.
“All these men — black, white, Hispanic, Norwegian, short or tall — it was incredible,” he says. “None them of argued. None of them were fighting for left-right principals. None of them were yelling in disgust. They were all strangers to each other, but at the same time they were all together, and they were all friends. They literally impressed me up one side and down the other. Even the guys selling Santa stuff in the back room were impressive. We have greatly enjoyed the camaraderie and fellowship of the Bluegrass Santas and the IBRBS.”
As for Amanda, she was a little hesitant, initially, when it came to diving into the persona of Mrs. Claus.
“I was 54, and the one thing I was struggling with is that I didn’t want to be frumpy,” she says. “I was just going to be Santa’s handler, his manager. I was going to be the person in the back of the room with the smart headset on whispering kids’ names to him. But, I loved all of the Santas and Mrs. Clauses I’d met at the Celebration in Denver, and I started getting into it a little bit more. The Mrs. Clauses there said I needed to attend an event called the Santa Nana Holiday University held in Columbus, Ohio. So I did, and that’s where I ‘found’ my Mrs. Claus.”
One of the exercises the ladies had to do was tell a story about being Mrs. Claus.
“My story was about how I met Santa,” Amanda recounts. “The story goes like this: One day I was eating lunch outside, sitting on a bench, and this bearded man came by and he asked if he could sit down and eat with me and I said yes. When I looked up at him I saw fairies and sparkles all around him, and I could hear bells. He sat down and as we ate, I kept looking at him all the while. Finally, he asked, ‘Why are you staring at me like that?’ and I answered, ‘Well, you have fairies and sparkles, and you’re just radiating magic!’ Santa then looked at me and exclaimed, ‘You’re the one! You can see the magic!’”
The ladies simply loved her story and Amanda admits it gave her goosebumps as she was telling it.
Amanda also experienced another epiphany while at the University. She wanted to have her picture taken by the professional photographer on hand, but she had nothing ‘Claus-like’ to wear.
“One of the ladies lent me an outfit which had a gorgeous red wool cape and a big white fur hat,” she says. “I put them on, looked at myself in the mirror and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I am Mrs. Claus!’”
When asked what kind of joy they receive from portraying the most famous couple from the North Pole, Jay says, “It has been the most remarkable, rewarding type of work you can do. It must be like what a priest goes through. The children respond to you positively. The adults respond to you positively. It’s not you making believe — you are Santa for the period of time that you’re in front of the children.”
Amanda loves it because of the magic their characters bring to the families.
“Seeing their eyes light up and watching them interact with Jay, it’s just wonderful,” she says.
Jay and Amanda say they’d like to build this into a business and have enough income to do home visits for children and families who can’t afford to pay for a Santa. They would like to make hospital visits and work with the Shriners.
“We don’t want to get rich off of this, we want to give back to the community,” Jay says.
Last year was the first year for Jay and Amanda to appear in public. This year, their appearances included a visit to the Eastern High School Band Holiday Boutique in November, plus they’ll be at Kiddie Kastle Children’s Furniture Store, and Wild Eggs in Westport Village, along with a few other spots around the Louisville area.
It’s easy to see why they both simply love playing Santa and Mrs. Claus.
“It’s all about building your own North Pole,” Amanda says. “You’ve got to come with all of your backstories, and how you’re going to answer questions ahead of time. You’ve got to think of all of the things the children are going to ask you, and you need to know your backstory so well that you can answer as Santa.”