One of the most magical parts of the holiday for many children is encountering Santa Claus around town, sharing their Christmas lists and taking photos. Behind these magical moments are volunteers like Freeman Bagnall, who plays Santa Claus for the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce (GSPACC) tree lighting and many other events.
During Santa’s offseason, Bagnall is a permanent substitute at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena.
“It gives me a lot of flexibility and I enjoy the kids,” said Bagnall. “I really truly have got to say they're fun and I'll stop doing it when it stops being fun.”
Bagnall began dressing as Santa in the late 1970s and 1980s at a Christmas party for children with special needs. At the time, Bagnall wore a fake beard. It wasn’t until he was dressing as Santa for a few years that he began to look the part.
“I turned gray and then white very, very young,” said Bagnall. “By the time I was in my early 40s, my hair was white.”
At this point, playing Santa became an important part of Bagnall’s holiday season, so he took it to the next level.
“I signed up with a couple of talent agencies,” said Bagnall. “In other words, I'm doing some commercial gigs and some non-paid. It's a mix.”
Bagnall played Santa at the chamber’s tree lighting again this year on December 3 at the chamber office. He said his favorite part about the chamber event is interacting with families.
“It entails meeting and greeting a lot of people and getting your picture taken quite a bit,” said Bagnall. “Also, answering kids' questions and sometimes adults' questions. It's a lot of fun.”
If you haven’t encountered Bagnall at an event around the holidays, you may recognize him from another community favorite. He has also walked in the GSPACC’s Fourth of July parade as Uncle Sam for years.
“I have a 22-year-old Mustang convertible,” said Bagnall. “They roped me into using the convertible and being Uncle Sam.”
Bagnall is a longtime member of the Severna Park chapter of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership. As a part of the Toastmasters float, Bagnall was asked to play Uncle Sam. Now, he is a staple in the parade. As a longtime Anne Arundel County resident, he enjoys seeing his neighbors and friends as he walks the parade route.
“The community comes out and supports it,” said Bagnall. “The sidewalks and the lawns were lined with people the whole parade route, waving to Uncle Sam.”
Bagnall also volunteers at St. Mary’s High School in Annapolis to teach English as a second language to Spanish-speaking adults. He said that he encourages the Hispanic community to visit him at the GSPACC tree lighting or Fourth of July parade.
“I'd love to see a nice turnout from the Hispanic community to greet Uncle Sam or to greet Santa Claus,” said Bagnall.
Bagnall said he intends to spread joy through these characters as long as he can, as long as it continues to be fun. Bagnall, who described himself as “young at heart,” said interacting with children has kept him that way.
“Let me put it this way: I don't tend to grow up,” explained Bagnall. “I don't want an old state of mind.”
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