Santa Claus is more of an idea than a person. Also known as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, or simply Santa, the legendary character in Western culture is said to bring gifts to the homes of well-behaved children at Christmas.
Santa Claus is a legend, an idea--but the idea was personified in our area by the person of James David Helms. Jim was retired from BellSouth, now known as AT&T, but his main claim to fame in Lincolnton and Lincoln County was his portrayal of his alter ego for several years.
We've called 2020 'the Lost Year,' and we've lost a lot this year because of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19, the disease it causes. We lost a part of last school year; we lost many sporting events and other annual gatherings; some people lost their jobs because of the shutdowns and some may yet lose their businesses because of the restrictions that had to be put in place to stop the virus. Now, we've lost 'Santa Jim.'
He and wife Evelyn both got the disease; she will likley recover, she's home from the hospital now; Jim didn't make it. No funeral plans have been made. His daughter, Jessica Rivas, says right now the family just needs time to grieve.
Many have posted Facebook comments praising and remembering 'Santa Jim.' Lincolnton Mayor Ed Hatley said Christmas already wasn't going to be the same, now there's an even bigger sense of loss. "Jim was an institution and a vital part of Lincolnton's Christmas celebrations for several years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. Losing 'Santa Jim' should remind everyone that this virus is real. We will miss Jim being a part of this Christmas and our future Christmases."
Laura Morris, Community Relations Director for the City and the person responsible for coordinating events like the Christmas parade and Santa's House told us: "I was heartbroken Monday morning to learn of Jim's passing. He was a kind, gentle man who loved children, even when they were afraid of meeting Santa. He just loved being Santa.
"When I first met Jim three years ago, I was so impressed by his beautiful white beard. It was his calling card and something I'll remember most about him. Jim took his role seriously and knew how much everyone looked forward to seeing him at Santa's House, waving as they rounded the Courtsquare."
Kirk Herbertson had the honor of serving as Jim's 'elf' both at Santa's House and in the parade. "What an honor to ride in the Christmas parade on the float with him , join him at Santa's House, accompany him at Breakfast With Santa and other appearances. He had a caring heart and gentle spirit, and was great with the kids, and his wife Evelyn made a great Mrs. Claus when she could be there. This is such a loss for our community, but I know he has taken his last sleigh ride to Heaven and is making all the kids there smile ."
The photos accompanying this article were mostly furnished by the City of Lincolnton; a few from our archives of recent Christmas celebrations. Michelle Bernard did an excellent article about Jim in the Monday edition of The Lincoln Times-News. We know we're a bit early--Christmas is still a month away, but we'll take this opportunity to say farewell to 'Santa Jim' with his favorite seasonal greeting, "Merry Christmas!" You helped to make it such for us many times.