“His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.”*
By now, anyone who’s worth his or her Christmas cookies knows about whom I’m talking. Why, Santa, of course. But in this case, it’s not just any Santa but THE “Sonoma” Santa – better known as Dave “Lumpy” Williams in the off-season.
Like any good Sonoma legend, Lumpy has his own loyal following. Having played Santa throughout the Valley for an incredible 45 years – 45 years! – Lumpy is beloved by children of all ages. In fact, he says that the very best part of his job are the kids he’s watched grow up (some who are now adults with families of their own). The ones that come back year after year to any one of the numerous annual events at which he’s asked to appear. Yes, he’s THAT popular.
And he’s that authentic. In fact, Lumpy really works hard at being Santa. In his words, he doesn’t want to “ruin it for some kid” like what happened when he went to see a department store Santa as a kid. “The guy was wearing construction boots and I just KNEW that he wasn’t Santa. I refused to sit on his lap.” So Lumpy is very careful with what he wears when playing the part. He chooses his suit carefully from one of several he owns. He wears high quality, Santa-esque boots complete with fur trim; he dons white gloves and granny glasses. And he’s even careful to never wear a wristwatch, something he’s sure Santa would eschew. If pushed about being the ‘real’ Santa, he will reluctantly admit to being ‘Santa Clause’s agent.’ “I think there are things that can extend an imagination – and that’s a good thing.”
Lumpy got his start playing Santa way back in 1968 when, as president of his high school class, he wanted to do something to polish the less-than-stellar image earned by his classmates during the turbulent 60’s. So he borrowed a Santa suit and embarked on a school-wide campaign to raise money for a local toy drive. His classroom-to-classroom antics worked, raising more money for the toy drive than in any other previous year. The local paper noticed, published the story and photos and, a legend was born.
Heading west and arriving in Sonoma, Lumpy found work at the developmental center, having experience as a recreational therapist. He continued his Santa stints and did his first Plaza tree lighting in 1975. Since then, literally, generations of Sonoma kids have greeted him when he arrives, the first Friday in December, atop the vintage fire engine in all his glory, smiling, waving and bestowing the season’s first holiday cheer.
“I just throw myself into it every year,” says Lumpy. “I start at the Plaza and work my way through the Valley and the season. I have a couple of elves that come along and help me out. It’s a great feeling to bring joy to so many people year after year.”
With the annual Plaza holiday kick-off under his belt, Santa can next be seen around town at various locations including the Epicurean Connection, the Toys for Tots movie event at Sebastiani Theatre, Sonoma Marketplace, at the Sonoma Valley Chorale performances, at brunch at Ramekins and breakfast at Big 3 Diner. On Christmas Eve, he makes his last visits to the Golden Living Center and Sonoma Valley Hospital. Sonoma holiday rounds complete, Santa heads to his sleigh and, if you listen hard enough you might just hear him exclaim those memorable words, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”*
* From “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore
What’s in a name
Lumpy’s nickname, by the way, dates back to when he was just a boy of nine. Round as he was tall by his own admission, Dave’s brother hung the name on him and it stuck, literally like glue, through high school, college and well into his adult years so that now, he is known ‘round town as…Lumpy.