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St. Louis Santas dance in the streets — and swim with sharks

Santa Claus, played by marine biologist Logan Philpott, listens in to senior marine biologist Payton Lemoine on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, at St. Louis Aquarium in St. Louis, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Santa Claus, played by marine biologist Logan Philpott, listens in to senior marine biologist Payton Lemoine on Dec. 5 at St. Louis Aquarium.

When Kevin Nolan was a child, he was enthralled with the idea of Santa Claus — even though he didn’t see iterations that looked like him. That’s why he takes time at the end of each year to perform as “Cocoa Santa” all across the St. Louis region.

Santa Claus’ representative Kevin Nolan, of north St. Louis, talks about his background in playing the role of Santa Claus on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021 at the St. Louis Public Radio headquarters in Grand Center. “I do this for the smiles and building up the confidence in my audience,” Nolan said. “Seeing representation makes things a little bit extra special.”
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
“I do this for the smiles and building up the confidence in my audience,” Kevin Nolan said. “Seeing representation makes things a little bit extra special.”

“So you're looking for a Santa with a slightly darker hue? Send me a message. Let's see what I can do,” he writes on his website.

Nolan joined Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss what makes Santa a quintessential holiday figure — and to share what he learned at the School of Santas in Branson, Missouri.

“It's more than just having a suit on; you really have to feel it inside. You have to have that calling to be a Santa,” he said. “Once I'm in my attire, I am Cocoa Santa. All of the problems that Kevin may be dealing with — or just the realities of the difficulties of life — that's Kevin. Cocoa Santa is having a wonderful time, all the time. I'm here to spread positivity to those that are around and just show the Christmas spirit.”

The owner of Pure Entertainment Co., Reggie Van Derson, also joined the discussion. Van Derson and his dance troupe "DJ Reggie and the Hip Hop Mamas” not only dress as Santa — they perform flash mob-style dances in Santa suits in St. Louis traffic.

“It's like being onstage except the lights are headlights,” Van Derson said.

The crew uses the dances to fundraise for community organizations. Their last fundraiser was for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“That's what brings us joy,” he said, “doing it for them and for the people that get to watch us.”

Meet: Three St. Louis Santas

Tuesday’s show featured Logan Philpott, biologist and diver at the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station, as well. During the holiday season, Philpott dives in the aquarium’s Shark Canyon as “Scuba Claus.”

“You definitely have to dive a lot slower and be more conscious of where you are; it is hard to see with all that hair,” Philpott said. “One of our sea turtles, Tsunami, has been quite interested in the Santa costume. I'm not sure if it's just the fuzziness of the suit or the hair — she's starting to get curious [and] she’s starting to get comfortable.

“So we do have to be wary that she's not trying to take a bite out of Santa,” he said, laughing.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

DJ Reggie and the Hip Hop Mamas, affectionately known as the “Dancing Santas,” entertain cars waiting at a red-light on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, on the corner of South Lindbergh Boulevard and Clayton Road in Frontenac, Missouri. The group travels around the St. Louis region to entertain the public while raising money for charity.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
DJ Reggie and the Hip Hop Mamas, affectionately known as the “Dancing Santas,” entertain cars waiting at a red-light on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, on the corner of South Lindbergh Boulevard and Clayton Road in Frontenac, Missouri. The group travels around the St. Louis region to entertain the public while raising money for charity.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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