Heart of the Treasure Valley: ‘I’m a Christmas kind of guy’

kjones@idahostatesman.comDecember 22, 2013 


    For 364 days of the year, Charlie Schmoeger is the owner of a Downtown Boise cleaning company. On Christmas morning, however, he’s Santa. But Santa Claus, he says, is more than just a one-day kind of philosophy.

    He says: “The Santa Claus qualities are just joy and happiness. You just learn to be happy and make other people happy, I think.

    “ … You’ve got to be a goofball; you’ve got to be comfortable being kind of goofy. … (and) I don’t think everybody can do that. … We all have friends who take life a little too seriously … it might take a little practice for some people. (He laughs.)

    “I think everybody should be Santa Claus once.”

Everyone knows what happens on Christmas Eve. Anticipation crackles in the air as Santa and his reindeer travel the world delivering toys to good little girls and boys.

It is a little-known fact, however, that Santa makes a detour on his way back to the North Pole — to St. Luke’s hospital in Downtown Boise. He visits patients and staff to deliver personal greetings on Christmas morning.

He says: “I always tease people that I didn’t catch them at their house that morning so I came looking. … ”

He parks the sleigh right up there on the roof by the helipad and works his way from the 10th floor to the ground floor.

“I start with a humongous mound of candy canes — thousands of candy canes — and it’s like magic. By the time I get down to the basement, where I see dietary and people in the cafeteria, there’s no candy canes left. ...

“A few people want to know, ‘Who are you? How did you find me here?’ They think that one of their friends dressed up to come down and wish them a Merry Christmas. They’ll say, ‘Do I know you?’

“I say, well, of course you do. I’m Santa.”

It was actually Santa’s father who started the Christmas morning tradition, way back in the 1950s. As a little boy, after they opened the presents under the tree, he would watch his father get ready to go to the hospital.

“As I grew up, it wasn’t very long before I realized that my dad was Santa Claus. After a few years, it was, OK, so dad plays Santa Claus. It was (all) pretty special.”

When he was old enough, he started accompanying his father to the hospital; when he was 23, his father retired and he took over, his “ho, ho, hos” deepening over the years. That was 33 years ago.

“It’s one of those things you do to honor your father a little bit … like a family tradition … It’s one of those things you do because you love doing it.

“ … When you put on the Santa suit, you turn into — well, I’m already a big kid anyway, but it’s just one of those things that gives you license to act in a childlike way. It just brings a smile to my face every time I think of it. … ”

He’s been doing it long enough that he’s got his own St. Luke’s ID badge. It says right there that he’s Santa.

“Life’s tough enough, you know. And every once in a while you need a reason to be a little playful. Or enjoy a lighthearted moment.

“I hope (people in the hospital) feel like Santa went out of his way to double-back and spend a few minutes with them on Christmas Day at the hospital.”

He visits everyone — doctors, nurses, staff, janitors, housekeepers, families, patients.

“The new mothers want their baby’s picture taken with Santa Claus, and that’s really awesome. … The neo-natal unit, where the babies are struggling … you can’t get too close because of infections; they wouldn’t want Santa Claus to give them something. …

“On Christmas Day, there are so many families. Sometimes there might be 10 people (in a room), from grandmother to just the littlest child. … You spend more time talking to the little kids, but it brightens up everybody’s day. …

“I’m a pretty good size Santa Claus, and every year there’s a little boy or girl that just charges down the hall and wants to give Santa Claus a big hug. Since it’s (later in the morning), Santa Claus has already come to their house and they want to thank you for all the presents you brought them. … It’s just always pretty special.”

Not all of his visits are happy. By definition, there can be very sick people in the hospital over the holidays, and he knows not everyone can be merry and bright.

“It’s all the strength they have to just acknowledge you sometimes. You take that in stride. … I don’t know if I understand, but I hope I understand — these are tough, tough times. You just wish them a Merry Christmas and move on.

“ … You’ve got to be all things to all people; you’ve got to be ready for anything. You’ve got to be sensitive to the people who don’t feel good, the nonbelievers, the people who are sleeping — and the believers. That’s what it’s all about.

“ … It’s just such an honor to (come).”

Santa wears a brace of reindeer bells — passed down from father to son; you can hear him way before you can see him — and what few Americans aren’t hardwired for their hearts to lift at the sound? Like he says, he’s a big guy — and his laugh precedes him, too. On Christmas morning, he’s accompanied by about four grown-up elves, including one who measures in at 7 feet tall and wears shoes curled up at the toes to boot.

“(We are) quite the sight. …

“Sometimes when (we) go into a room — we’re just a bunch of guys; we don’t have the best singing voices — and they want us to sing a Christmas carol. Oh, my gosh. We do it. It’s not pretty, but we do it.

“ … If you’re going to be Santa Claus, you can’t take yourself too seriously. … ”

But the spirit of Christmas itself, the traditions and the meanings — that’s something to take to heart.

“Christmas is important to me because, I guess as I get older, it’s all about family. And it’s about giving and sharing.

“When you’re younger, it’s all about getting. As you get older, it’s all about giving.”

Giving his Christmas morning to people in the hospital, before he retires to a well-deserved Christmas dinner and puts his feet up at home in front of the fireplace, Santa says:

“You get so much more than you give.”

Know someone living “from the heart”? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email kjones@idahostatesman.com.

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service