Santa! I know him! (Read this and you will too!)
Updated: Jan 21
"I am the happiest man alive in the Ohio Valley in November and December," said Mike Slenski (aka Santa Mike). It all started in 1994 when Mike was asked by a fellow member of his church to portray their Santa because he resembled the jolly old elf and had an outgoing personality. He rented a suitable suit for the occasion, and in June Mike began taking classes in Columbus taught by Tim Conaghan who has been portraying Santa for over 50 years, including in the Rose Bowl Parade and in television shows, commercials and movies.
Santa Mike has a degree from Santa University. "I took the Santa Oath. It's all about the children," he said. At Santa University he learned how to interact with children and families, take pictures with youngsters, and how to be Santa at events. "I learned how to exhibit the best appearance as Santa from head to toe," Mike said. "I learned how to answer children's questions about Santa, my reindeer, and the North Pole."
From his training, Mike learned the best ways to market his service as Santa. He chose to become "Santa Mike For The Tri-State"working in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
"I have been Santa as far north as Youngstown, as far east as Pittsburgh, and as far west as Newark, Ohio," Mike said.
He completed advanced Santa training in Columbus this past summer where he learned new poses, more answers to commonly asked questions, and more marketing techniques. Mike's Santa appearances have increased steadily each year from 10 events per year the first year to over 60 events this year. He said he typically does about 25 yearly events in Belmont County. He recently completed a series of photos as Santa visiting the top tourism locations in Belmont County. Watch the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49ziVqFbMfE
He rides in the St. Clairsville Christmas Parade and helps light the tree. For the past two years, he has posed for pictures in the Belmont County Heritage Museum after the parade. This year he added tree lighting ceremonies in Wheeling and Moundsville and would love to do more parades and tree lighting ceremonies in the future.
Mike said he would love to be the "real bearded Santa" in the Wheeling Christmas Parade. "I remember shopping and pictures with Santa in Wheeling stores as a child. Little did I even believe that I would be Santa, visiting with children on my lap," he said.
Mike did achieve one of his "Santa goals" this year by appearing as Santa in the Oglebay Festival of Lights TV commercials. He will also be filming a series of one-hour "visit with Santa" TV programs for the Highlands shopping area. Those series will appear on www.hitthehighlands.com.
Mike has visited families at Christmas each year for the past five or six years, seeing elementary age children grow into high school students. "I am truly part of these families and their special Christmas traditions. I enjoy these Santa visits as much as they do," he said.
Mike said he is blessed to have many personal referrals from his current clients to new, potential clients looking for a "great Santa experience".
"My favorite part of being Santa is to provide the children and their families with special moments or photos they well remember for a lifetime. I am pleased to bring joy and magic into their lives," he said. "I have so many people tell me 'You have made my day!' when I take pictures with them."
Mike appears as Santa at a local church on Christmas Eve and shares with the children that the real reason to celebrate Christmas is "the birth of Jesus Christ, the greatest gift of all".
He also makes a yearly stop on Christmas Day at St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Wheeling Island to provide food and gifts to the less advantaged citizens of our area.
Mike said playing Santa makes him perpetually happy during a time of year when others may be feeling stressed or sad.
Even when he is not in costume, his resemblance to Santa is obvious, so he wears red most of the time during November and December. "It is not unusual for me to pose for five to eight pictures or selfies daily in just my street clothes," he said.
"A Linsly School instructor once told me that Santa Claus is the most beloved character in the world and I believe he may be correct," Mike said.
Mike said he was due to be born on Christmas Day but didn't come into this world until December 27th.
"I believe it was my destiny to wear the red and white outfit of Santa and I do my best to be the 'One and only Santa Claus for Belmont County, the Ohio Valley, and beyond," he said.
"Ho Ho Ho and Merry Christmas to everyone!"
You can find Santa Mike on Facebook at Santa Mike for Tri-State.