TIM CAVENDER was a sophomore at Cherokee High School in Canton when a couple of classmates asked him to play Santa for a Christmas assembly. While initially apprehensive about the portrayal, believing he would get reamed by his fellow teenage classmates, he was pleasantly surprised at their collective reaction. They laughed and held their hands out for the candy he distributed up and down the aisles of the school auditorium. It was a revelation for the then-15year-old. “They were having a good time. Those high school students became like children. They were excited to see Santa,” he recalls. “I stood there and thought, ‘This wasn’t so bad after all. I sort of enjoyed this.’”
Within weeks, he secured an opportunity to play Santa for a small pharmacy in his hometown of Ball Ground. He borrowed a Santa suit, which he describes as very unprofessional in appearance, and challenged himself to earn
enough money to purchase his suit during the following year. And he did just that. “I bought the most expensive Santa Claus suit I could find, which at the time came from the JC Penney catalog and cost about $300,” Cavender says. “That’s where it all started.”
Today, Cavender is heading into his 48th year as a professional Santa Claus and has become one of North Georgia’s most beloved symbols of the holiday season. His nearly five-decade career as Kris Kringle has taken him on a journey he never expected, leading to an array of exciting opportunities, including his 2015 induction into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame, which honors famous Santa Clauses and Mrs. Clauses of the past and present. And “Santa Tim” has no plans to slow down. With his wife Pam, also known as Mrs. Claus, by his side, he revels in bringing yuletide joy to the local community with every appearance he makes during the Christmas season and beyond.
For the Children
“I’ve always had a heart for children. I love kids. And, unsurprisingly, I’ve never really grown up,” says Cavender, who credits his father with instilling the beloved image of Santa Claus in him as a boy. “I’m a 63-year-old man with the heart of a child, and I just love creating that Christmas magic for children.”
For the entirety of his career as Saint Nick, Cavender has served as Ball Ground’s official Santa, visiting with children and their families year after year. “I have people who come to see me now who saw me as children, and they’re bringing their children. I’m even seeing some of their grandchildren,” he observes. “It’s become a family tradition for so many, which makes me feel really good that people keep coming because I was ‘their’ Santa Claus.”
It’s no surprise that generations of families feel so connected to Santa Tim, who strives to provide a truly immersive experience for everyone he encounters. From his remarkably traditional image (complete with a stunning Santa suit crafted by a Hollywood costumer and makeup that completely transforms him into the jolly old elf) to the way he engages with children and gives them real answers to their often-asked questions (like sprinkling pixie dust on the reindeer to help them fly on Christmas Eve), he is dedicated to capturing and sharing the enchantment that surrounds Santa Claus. He even gifted Pam, whom he met and married when he was 40 years old, with her own Mrs. Claus costume so she could be part of the experience he had grown to love.
“Tim has such a passion for keeping that magic and wonder for children,” Pam Cavender says. “It really gives me such a great sense of pride to see him do this because he is such a magical kind of guy. He’s like a big teddy bear. Children are just drawn to him, and you can see the happiness he gets from portraying the character. His sense of joy in becoming Santa is really contagious.”
Of course, for Cavender, being Santa Claus goes beyond his appearance alone. “The thing that has always bothered me is that I never want a child to have a Christmas without a toy,” he notes.
“Christmas is for everyone, and we spend so much time making sure that our families are happy. But there are those whose Christmas may not be as magical or as fun. There are some children’s families who can’t afford toys. I would love for people to get involved, give back to the community, and help someone going through hard times. Try to create that magic for those kids and families and really build within them the true spirit of the Christmas holiday.” That philosophy prompted Cavender to help found the March of the Toys Parade in Ball Ground. Celebrating its eighth year in 2021 on Friday, December 3, the parade is a highly anticipated community event that asks every attendee to bring a new, unwrapped toy for the Toys for Tots campaign. The parade, which attracts participants and visitors from across the region, has become one of the largest Christmas parades in North Georgia and often boasts more attendees than residents in the town. “The city of Ball Ground has been so supportive, and my biggest gift every year for Christmas is seeing the excitement of the children at the parade,” Cavender says. “And it brings so much joy to my heart to know that we are doing something good. The greatest gift I can give to a child is something that somebody else may take for granted. I try to help those who may not be able to have a Merry Christmas have one.”
For Cavender, spreading the Christmas spirit goes far beyond his hometown and the local families who are so close to his heart. Santa Tim has become quite the celebrity across metro Atlanta, and he has enjoyed a host of unexpected opportunities over the years. For instance, for nearly
10 years, Tim and Pam Cavender brought their Santa and Mrs. Claus to the Georgia Governor’s Mansion to assist with lighting the venue’s Christmas tree. Santa Tim also appears on various local television stations during the holiday season, and he made his film debut as Santa in 2020 in “Charlie’s Christmas Wish.” He recently completed his second movie, “Christmas at the Grey Horse Inn,” where he plays a double role as both Santa and bookstore owner Edwin Goodheart. He also wrote a book in 2017 entitled “Recollections of My Life as Santa Claus,” which shares a variety of tales about his adventures. With all of these accomplishments, it’s no wonder why, when Pam nominated him for inclusion in the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame, the committee eagerly accepted him.
“It’s a true honor because there are people in the Hall of Fame that were very instrumental to me in my career as Santa Claus, including the first Santa Claus I ever saw when I was a little boy—a gentleman by the name of Charles Howard, who was the Santa Claus for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He was one of the inaugural class members, and now I’ve been inducted,” he says. “It was a very humbling experience. It’s quite an honor.”
For North Georgia, the honor is having Tim Cavender as Santa Claus. He sees it as a privilege, and he looks forward to many more years in the role. “The good Lord has blessed me with my Santa career. I give him all the credit for the wonderful opportunities that I’ve had over the years,” he concludes. “I’ve been even more blessed than the children who come to see me. They have brought me even more joy than I have brought to them. It’s just been a wonderful, wonderful experience.”