Hudson man spreads holiday cheer as Santa for three decades

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By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor

Galen “Red” Isaacs as Santa meets A.J. Wade at 2018’s Hudson Downtown Holiday Stroll.
File photo/Ed Karvoski Jr.

Hudson – Galen “Red” Isaacs of Hudson has owned five Santa suits and traveled on at least 20 fire engines as Mr. Claus over the past three decades. Along the way, he has observed awestruck expressions on the faces of countless children.

“There’s nothing like that look from a kid when they think you’re the real thing,” he shared.

Isaacs first played Santa Claus after a chance meeting at a supermarket in 1990 with Janice Taylor, his former math teacher at Hudson High School where he graduated in 1971. After accepting her invitation to play the guest of honor at a holiday fundraiser, he rented a Santa suit at the longtime Hudson mainstay Robinsons Hardware.

The Hudson Fire Department provided a fire engine to transport Isaacs as Santa along with his then-3-year-old son, Joe. Together, they made a grand entrance.

“My favorite memory is holding my son’s hand and walking into the building,” he recalled. “Joe was very excited.”

Even since Isaacs’ Santa debut, he has had a natural full beard. In 1990, however, his beard was solid red – hence, his nickname, “Red.” He relied on hair-dye spray to transform his red beard to white.

For several years, the special destination of his many fire engine rides was the Massachusetts Statehouse for a tree lighting followed by a festive gathering with children. Those appearances began after Isaacs’ surprise visit as Santa on Christmas Eve to the Hudson family home of then-Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci and his wife Jan.

Isaacs’ statehouse appearances continued into the terms of former governors Jane Swift and Mitt Romney. Throughout those years, his mode of transportation ranged from a golf cart camouflaged as a sleigh to a particularly distinctive fire engine.

“I was brought in once on a 1966 American LaFrance fire engine from the Boston Fire Museum,” he recounted. “Waiting for them to bring me up to the statehouse, we were parked on Charles Street for a half-hour while people passed by and took pictures.”

Also for several years, Isaacs appeared as Santa at The Paper Store in Hudson. His other appearances have included private house parties, fundraisers and community and corporate events.

“Over the years, I’ve learned how to answer the kids’ questions,” he noted. “They’ll always ask me, ‘Where’s the sleigh?’ I tell them that I parked my sleigh at the school – and, of course, they think it’s at their school. It’s never not worked because there’s always a school somewhere.”

Likewise, Isaacs figured how to coax fidgety children to pose with him when he does photo shoots at businesses and community events.

“I ask them if they would take a picture with me so I can show it to Mrs. Claus,” he revealed. “It works most of the time because they don’t want to disappoint Mrs. Claus.”

Galen “Red” Isaacs as Santa gets a wish list from Iris at 2019’s Hudson Downtown Holiday Stroll.
Photo/Emily Joy Ashman, The Illustrated Room

Among his Santa stints in recent years are Hudson Business Association’s annual Hudson Downtown Holiday Stroll, as well as merchants’ visits organized by Hudson Downtown Business Improvement District. Also in Hudson, he has done photo sessions at Avidia Bank’s main branch.

His nearby appearances have included Slater’s in Bolton for over 20 years, Sudbury Fire Department’s holiday party and Stow Women’s Club’s Breakfast with Santa.

Last year, Isaacs invested in a custom-made Santa suit created by Pierre’s Costumes in Philadelphia. He was pleased to wear the new suit at his hometown’s 2019 downtown stroll.

Like many major events, the usual multi-activity stroll won’t take place in 2020 due to pandemic safety concerns.

“Last year was my best year ever because I was so comfortable in that beautiful suit,” Isaacs noted. “Hopefully, I’ll be back next year.”

Instead of the stroll this year, Isaacs as Santa will spread holiday cheer with a drive-by Saturday, Dec. 12, from 5 to 7 p.m., in front of Hudson Town Hall.