Q&A with Santa: Meet Santa Josiah

Santa poses for pictures with a family during Celebration Crossing at the Indiana State Museum. (Photos provided/Josiah McCruiston)
Santa poses for pictures with a family during Celebration Crossing at the Indiana State Museum. (Photo provided/Josiah McCruiston)

Indianapolis has a handful of Santas who spend Nov. 25-Dec. 25 bustling around the city, helping to make the holiday season magical for kids and parents alike. 

For the last eight years, local pastor and educator Josiah McCruiston has been Santa Claus for Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, the Indiana State Museum and more. The Recorder sat down with Santa Josiah to discuss what makes Saint Nick so special. 

Local educator and pastor Josiah McCruiston is one of Indianapolis’ many different Santas. (Photo provided/Josiah McCruiston)

What got you into this job? What made you decide to learn how to be Santa?

McCruiston: I originally was doing something called the Jazz and Jive Toy Drive. It was a small Christmas show where I played a singing Santa Claus. It happened in Bloomington, Indiana, and it also happened Downtown at the Indiana Historical Society, and there was an opportunity for me to not only sing but also to pass out presents at the end and also take photos. People really enjoyed not only my singing, but they also enjoyed my time with them as Santa. The following year, someone reached out to me to see if I would be willing to be their, like, Santa for their school. Then after that, the Children’s Museum was looking for a Santa Claus. Then, I was Santa Claus at the same Indiana Historical Society. It just sort of picked up from there because there was essentially a Santa shortage — there’s still a shortage — and I said yes.

What was the process like? Did you do any type of training for the job?

McCruiston: A good friend of mine who’s another Santa Claus in town, Ty Stover, sort of gave me some helpful hints, some tidbits. I sort of cheated, and I stole some information from the Santa Claus University, but it was not “cheated” and “stolen” as in a nefarious way; I just looked up the information and was able to find some helpful hints and tips on how to become Santa Claus. I designed my own suit, went to a local seamstress and had it made — because I get the traditional look, but I really wanted something that was timeless, fun for me and unique in its own right. It’s been really fun to not only create this character but also to just be just a helpful voice in the community.

Why do you keep doing this? What do you enjoy most about being Santa?

McCruiston: I think one of my favorite things about being Santa is I get to remind families of a few things. One: Naughty and nice is a little passé. I don’t tell kids I’m checking my Naughty and Nice List. I ask them, “Are they intending to be good?” and “Are their intentionalities for good outweighing their inklings of being, like, terrible people?” I ask them if they are helping their parents and reminding them that parents have a lot to worry about, but if they don’t have to worry about you, that’s what makes their Christmas a lot better. […] That’s like a point proven that even if you ask for all the presents in the world, your parents are more than likely going to say all they want for Christmas is “a happy family and for our children to be safe.” It’s just a beautiful, warm feeling to see families articulate that. 

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What is something you look forward to each year, because you only get to be Santa for one month of the year, right?

McCruiston: It’s literally just a month, from after the last piece of turkey served on Thanksgiving to the 24th. It’s a month. I always look forward to the Pajama Party at the Indiana State Museum — that’s always fun, and I always look forward to doing the Cookie Karaoke with my little guild of people that I have. […] We teach the kids how to make cookies, kids get to sit and talk with Santa, I’ll read from a book and Auntie Claus will have them design their own elf costume, and it’s always fun to see the kids’ face when they experience all of the Santa things.

What does it mean to you to be one of the very few Black Santas in Indianapolis? Do you feel that representation; do you see that in the way kids look at you versus other Santas? 

McCruiston: It’s not just my Black families that I have come. I have a family that comes from Atlanta every year to come see me, which is really inspiring to see they will travel this far just for me. But I also enjoy seeing all the other families that are looking for a Black and brown Santa. The kids feel more comfortable with me. I get fewer screaming babies than other Santas, and I also have an opportunity to just have fun, and relate, and give them magic, wonder and play. 

It’s also great for my home church, Witherspoon. We have candle lighting service each year, and I sometimes make a special appearance there, and that’s one of the big highlights of my year as well. But it’s always fun to see children’s faces when they say, “Wait a minute, mom, he’s Black.” It’s very touching and heartwarming because it’s something I didn’t have as a kid.

Santa (Josiah McCruiston) and Auntie Claus (Carla Marshall) during Celebration Crossing at the Indiana State Museum. (Photo provided/Josiah McCruiston)

On that note, where can kids find Santa Josiah around Indianapolis this year?

McCruiston: You can find me on @indiana_black_santa on Instagram. Then, there’s the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, I’ll be at the Downtown location. I’ll also be at P30 on Dec.17 for their Brunch with Santa. I’ll also be making some surprise pop-up visits at Ujamaa Bookstore on MLK and at Providence Cristo Rey High School and Witherspoon Presbyterian Church — there’s actually free photos at Witherspoon Presbyterian Church on Dec. 17.

What’s the best way to stay on the Nice List?

McCruiston: Oh, yes, the best way to stay on the Nice List is to eat your vegetables, clean up after yourself — Santa ain’t delivering no presents to no dirty room — making sure that you go to bed on time, listen to your parents and last but not least, be a light in the world.

What are Santa’s favorite cookies?

McCruiston: Santa’s boujee. Santa loves a browned butter toffee nut chocolate chip cookie. I also love a white chocolate craisin oatmeal macadamia nut. Those are my two favorites.

Santa Josiah will make appearances at Celebration Crossing at the Indiana State Museum, 650 W. Washington St., Dec. 8, 11, 12, 14, 16 and 22. Visits are free with admission, but photo packages range from $5-$21. For more information, visit indianamuseum.org/santa-schedule.

Responses have been edited for grammar, style and clarity.

Contact staff write Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.