By Kara Witherow, Editor
For 18 Christmas seasons, from 1975 until 1993, Rev. Eric Sizemore donned a red suit, a beard, and a stocking cap.
And while the 160ish-pound, dark-haired, 36-year-old preacher didn’t then look much like the jolly, old elf, he had the same infectious grin and hope-filled spirit.
On Sunday mornings – then and now – Rev. Sizemore preaches a message of love, hope, and goodwill to all. But for those 18 holiday seasons, on Friday evenings, Saturdays, and Sunday afternoons he’d also share a similar message, albeit with a slightly different crowd.
The children, adults, and pets who piled onto his lap to tell him their Christmas wishes didn’t know he was also the pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church. But they surely felt the love and joy he radiated as the new Macon Mall’s Santa Claus.
What started out as a way to earn a little extra cash to pay for seminary became a natural extension of his role as pastor, he said.
Back in 1975, Rev. Sizemore was a seminary student struggling to get by. His wife, Carol, worked six days a week at a downtown Macon dress shop while he attended classes at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and substitute taught in the Bibb County school system.
Needing to supplement his family’s income, he answered an ad in the Macon Telegraph and soon became the Macon Mall’s Santa Claus.
“We were doing everything we could to make ends meet,” he said. “I substitute taught, I solicited for the city directory, and then I saw in the paper an ad for seasonal work. I went and applied for it and they hired me!”
The churches he served always gave the green light for Rev. Sizemore to put on his red Santa suit. While he tried to never promise a child anything, he did try to spread messages of hope and joy.
“To see the thrill of hope in their eyes … it was really worth it,” he said. “We live in a very jaded world today, and kids don’t seem to have enough fantasy in their lives. I think there’s a need for fantasy and wonder in little children, and I was pleased to be able to contribute to their happiness.”
The sacrifices he and his family made for him to attend seminary and become a pastor were numerous, but many of his fellow classmates had similar stories, said Rev. Sizemore, who retired in 2006 but still serves Rochelle and Pitts United Methodist Churches.
“It was a struggle, but it was worth it,” he said of the early mornings, long drives to Atlanta, late nights, and odd jobs. “When God puts a call on you, you have to respond to it.”
And although he may not wear the red suit anymore, Rev. Sizemore, 80, still has an important Christmas message to share.
“I really want Advent to be a season of hope. There is hope. We have hope in Christ Jesus,” he said. “We need to look beyond the façade and the glitter and glamour of Christmas to know that God has come in the flesh and that’s to whom we should be paying more attention to than the trappings of Christmas.”