A Conversation with Wil Strickland, Ann Arbor’s Favorite Santa

. December 2, 2016.
Photo Credit: Aimee Grant Eldon
Photo Credit: Aimee Grant Eldon

Wil Strickland sits on a wooden bench, his soft brown eyes twinkling at the young children sitting next to him. Donning his handcrafted red parka accented with white snowflakes of soft, furry angora and glittering Swarovski crystals, Strickland plays a grand Santa as he embraces the magic and sparkle of the Christmas season. “Sparkle is always good. This time of year we need sparkle. It’s part of the magic,”  he remarks.

Bringing back the magic

Strickland started out dressing as Father Christmas while whimsically walking the dogs in his Ann Arbor neighborhood, bringing a smile to neighbors’ faces in the months following the enveloping sadness of September 11, 2001. Soon he began a magical tradition by dressing as Father Christmas in costumes he spun, felted, and constructed himself, for everything from trips to the grocery store to events at restaurants and businesses in and around Ann Arbor. “I try to bring back the magic, and avoid the commercialism,” he says.

When chatting with children who come to visit Santa, Strickland has a thoughtful approach. “I don’t ask what they want, I ask what their wish is,” he says. “To me it makes sense that kids get toys that time of year because kids are stuck inside and need new toys to play with. It’s the darkest season of the year.” 

Listening to the wishes of both children and adults alike gives Strickland a unique insight into the magic of the season. “I like to view it as a season because it’s easy to put all your expectations on one day, and we just need to keep reaching out at this dark time of year with whatever light we have. It’s a time to reach out and think of other people.”

While he no longer has a preference between “Father Christmas” and “Santa” (“I answer to anything now”), Strickland has some helpful tips for parents who bring their child to visit Santa. “Let kids react naturally. Don’t force it if they’re timid and shy.” He also advises parents to talk to their child before it’s their turn to sit with the jolly fellow. “Talk about how magical and nice Santa is. Have them prepared with what they want to say because they usually get really shy.”

Photo Credit: Aimee Grant Eldon (left to right) Anna Eldon and Wil Strickland at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Photo Credit: Aimee Grant Eldon
(left to right) Anna Eldon and Wil Strickland at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Q & A with Will Strickland

Favorite spot for hot cocoa in Ann Arbor?
My kitchen, with homemade gingersnap cookies.

Best place for a winter walk in Ann Arbor?
I like to walk around Argo Pond.

How would you spend your ideal winter day?
In front of a warm fireplace with my dogs and a good book.

Favorite spot to pick up Christmas gifts in Ann Arbor?
Treasure Mart

Favorite Christmas movie?
Miracle on 34th Street (the original in black and white)

Favorite Christmas book?
Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Hidden winter gem in Ann Arbor?
A nice, cozy dinner at Ayse’s Café in the Courtyard Shops.

Opportunities to visit with Ann Arbor’s favorite Santa

December 3
Downtown Home and Garden
10am-1pm | 210 S. Ashley St.

December 6
Metzger’s German Restaurant
305 N. Zeeb Rd. | metzgers.net

December 11
12-3pm | Brewed Awakenings
7025 E. Michigan Ave. | Saline

December 17
Matthaei Botanical Gardens
1800 N. Dixboro Rd.