Once upon a time many years ago at the age of five, I awoke on Christmas morning to find the proof I has been looking for that Santa Claus did indeed exist. Excitedly my Father took me outside to show me the track marks Santa’s sleigh had left on our roof, so the one thing I know for sure is that Santa Claus, the many names he goes by and the spirit of generosity he represents is very real.
Calgarian Hal Kerbes embodies this spirit and all the descriptors of Santa – jolly, twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks, and an all-knowing wink. In fact, over the last twenty plus years, friends of Kerbes have commented that he is pretty hard to track down in December. Through some investigative journalism it seems that at the same time Kerbes disappears Santa appears at more and more locations across Calgary, from Southcentre Mall to Marlborough Mall, the Calgary Farmers’ Market and Roving YYC.
Come to think of it, I never have seen Hal and Santa Claus in the same place. Coincidence? I think not!
When I asked Kerbes about this mysterious pattern, he told me a wonderful story about his experiences as Santa and why being part of so many people’s Christmas stories means so much to him. “It’s all about magic and the spirit of giving” Kerbes comments. “I always try and elicit the best from young people by asking them what they wish for not only for themselves – because toys and books and games and Lego are fun – but what they wish for for others; for family, for those in need, for those in pain. I invite them to think about the bigger world and what one small thing they might do to make it a better place.”
As people who know Hal will tell you it’s his kindness, the size of his heart, and the impact he has made within Calgary’s theatre community that are just a few of the many ways he has and continues to make the world a better place. As an actor, singer, director, artistic director and choreographer among many other roles throughout his career, Kerbes has helped generations of Calgarians be transformed by theatre and storytelling. As his wife Kathryn (I think she’s actually Mrs. Claus!) tells me about just one chapter of his story: “Hal founded Stage West for Kids and wrote five original shows every year for 17 seasons. The crowning jewel of each season was always an original Christmas musical.”
I asked Kerbes what it is that motivates him to make an impact in his communities, and how he would describe his SPARK? In answer, he told me: “The telling of stories and singing of songs that touch people, that make a difference – whether to provide a moment of escape, or hope or enlightenment – or a song to lift the heart or create a memory to cherish.” Over the years, Kerbes has had a number of very special memories as Santa, all of which are touching and so full of the magic that follows him wherever he goes.
One in particular proves that Santa is as much for adults as he is for children. “With adults, I tend to ask what they would like their Christmas to look like, who they’d like to spend it with, what would make it truly special” Kerbes comments. At a corporate party, he met a woman who wanted to spend time with her aging mother, but noted that distance, her Mom being unable to travel and other factors like work, life and costs were standing in the way. With great wisdom, Kerbes suggested that neither she nor her mother were getting any younger and that travelling would unlikely ever become cheaper. He also told her that sometimes the most important gift you can give to yourself is the gift of time, and that you can’t put a dollar value on that. As Kerbes was about to leave the party, the woman caught him by the door to tell him she’d gotten on her phone, found a last-minute sale flight and would be seeing her mother on Monday. It was just for a couple of days, but she threw her arms around his neck and thanked him for the best Christmas present ever.
At the end of Kerbes’ story, so lively and quick, he disappeared, and in a twinkling, I heard on the roof the prancing and pawing of each little hoof. Without missing a beat, Kathryn told me: “Our kids both grew up KNOWING Hal was Santa. He embodies the spirit of the jolly old elf – selfless and kind – and watching him with the young ones during the season is extraordinary. He captures their joy and wonder, they are mesmerized by him and know he’s the real deal.” As Hal’s daughter Hannah, also currently moonlighting as an Elf adds: “Hal is Santa!” I couldn’t agree more.