MEADVILLE — “I do not like a beard, it is messy when eating, especially soup,” he said. “But God wanted me to play Santa, so I did!”
Below is another story published in 2006 while Eldridge was still actively portraying Santa.
Last year The Meadville Tribune published a story and a slideshow on a local man who has been portraying Santa on the Streets of Meadville for more than a generation. We revisit this story this weekend as this man again begins to don his red suit officially Friday evening with the Light - Up Meadville celebration at Diamond Park.
As his fingers glide across the smooth skin on his chin searching for spots he missed with his razor, Meadville’s Ray Eldridge looks into the mirror above his bathroom sink. It’s the end of April and this shave will be his last for eight months. He washes off the remaining suds and looks deep into his face. “That’s it,” he says as his eyes begin to glimmer and a smile forms.
He begins to let his facial hair grow every May and doesn’t shave again until the end of December.
“I do not like a beard,” he admits, but there is no way he would ever not grow one.
The 83-year-old man is Santa Claus. He believes God has groomed him his entire life to play Santa, and Eldridge knows he can’t be Santa without a beard. Even though he finds having a beard a pain — eating is messy, especially soups or foods with sauces — he doesn’t feel he can let God or the people of Meadville down — they expect him to be there. “Santa has so many interesting encounters,” he said. “And he (God) has been working on me my whole life to play Santa. I can’t quit on him now!”