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11/29/2023 08:30 AM

Dave Sizemore: Guess Who’s Coming to Town

A member of the Claus family, Dave Sizemore will help the best-known member of his family, Santa at Ivoryton Illuminations on Dec. 2. Photo courtesy of Dave Sizemore

Luckily, the Claus family is a big one because its best-known member, Santa, has a very busy schedule at this time of year. To keep everybody happy, younger siblings can fill in. One of them, whose real-world alias is Dave Sizemore, will be at Ivoryton Illuminations on Dec. 2.

The event, organized by the Ivoryton Alliance, features over 400,000 Christmas lights strung throughout the Ivoryton Green, as well as a host of family activities for the holidays.

From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., there will be a petting zoo on the Green, an Elf-on-the-Shelf scavenger hunt throughout the village, and cookie decorating on the patio of the Blue Hound to benefit the Valley Regional High School World Food Program. The decorating will continue until supplies run out.

The holiday music that accompanies the event will be available on media devices by going to the website of the local internet radio station, The music is also available on 101.5 FM. The light display continues through the holiday season.

The moment that the crowd waits for comes at 6 p.m. when Santa, who answers to the name of Dave when off-duty, makes his appearance. Dave is from the land-based branch of the Claus family, not the sled-in-the-sky crew, so he will come out of the front door of the Ivoryton Playhouse.

“I don’t like heights,’ he explains.

This is the second year Dave has stood in for the guy busy at the North Pole, but it is not his debut as Santa.

He first played Santa for his family after an uncle retired from the job and passed the suit on to him. Since he had the suit and was a teacher and school administrator, he branched out to selfies with Santa at the high school where he then worked.

Dave was ready for the next step. His wife Nada arranged a trip for him to a Santa convention in Colorado for his 50th birthday in 2018. On his way to the convention, at Bradley Airport, he met another convention goer and longtime Santa, the late Bill Niedbala, who was the Claus family representative at Ivoryton Illuminations for many years.

Niedbala became a mentor to Dave, providing him with everything from advice on becoming a Santa success to helping to line up holiday employment. He also introduced Dave to the local professional group, Connecticut Society of Santas, of which Dave is now vice-president.

The group has everything for Santa, from programs on the latest trends in toys to advice on the care of Santa’s all-important beard.

For two years, Dave was Santa on the Essex Steam Train. He had already decided to form his own company and operate as an independent member of the Claus family when the pandemic shut everything in person down.

He turned to the internet and did electronic Santa visits. In all, he was engaged as a virtual Santa in some 46 states and three foreign countries. Since the threat of COVID has lessened, most of Dave’s appearances are now live.

Being Santa is about more than putting on the suit. In fact, Dave never wears the suit when he is driving to a Santa appearance. He has a suitcase with not one suit but two, so whatever happens, he remains prepared.

There are some Santa basics to be aware of when on the job.

“You have to think on your feet and always be ready to pivot,” he says. “And remember to keep smiling.”

Santa has to be careful not to make promises that cannot be kept. When a youngster asks for an expensive toy, particularly if Dave sees parents shaking their heads, he often says Santa will have to think about that.

And he doesn’t agree to pet requests.

He tells youngsters that it is too cold in the North Pole to have pets and Santa doesn’t transport live animals.

Santa, though based on St. Nicholas of Myra, is a figure that works for children of all faiths.

“I’ve had kids of all religions. Santa doesn’t have those boundaries; he is a universal person,” Dave says. “I see excitement in all children.”

There are some boundaries that Dave does not cross. He will not appear at political functions.

“Santa is apolitical,” he explains.

But, as it turns out, Santa is multi-seasonal. There is an increasing demand for Christmas in July appearances, particularly at senior citizen facilities. Dave has a summer costume for those occasions: red Bermuda shorts with white trim, a Hawaiian shirt, red and black socks, and, of course, a Santa hat.

When he takes off the suit, Dave becomes the assistant head of school at Independent Day School in Middlefield. He has been a teacher and school administrator for some 30 years, much of that time at Xavier High School in Middletown.

Dave has also done radio commercials, even taking a voiceover course at the Hartford Stage in 2016.

“People tell me I have a face that is perfect for radio,” he says.

Santa is busy leading up to Christmas, but the day after Christmas is also a significant moment for Dave. That is when he shaves off Santa’s bushy beard. But just temporarily. He starts growing it again the day school gets out for the summer.

Ivoryton Illuminations

Saturday, Dec. 2, on the Ivoryton Green

Activities start at 5:30; Santa’s arrival and tree lighting at 6 p.m.