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'Jolly old soul' recites 'Autobiography of Santa'
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Santa Claus (portrayed by Alvin R. Tyndall of Winston-Salem, N.C.) traveled to Martinsville on Sunday to speak at the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center & Museum. Tyndall spoke about the history of St. Nick as well as his time spent spreading holiday cheer as the jolly old soul. He was accompanied by his wife, Mrs. Claus (Sylvia S. Tyndall). (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
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Monday, December 24, 2012

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

The night before his epic journey delivering toys to boys and girls around the globe, Santa Claus stopped in Martinsville to talk about his life.

Santa was portrayed by Alvin R. Tyndall of Winston-Salem, N.C., who appeared Sunday at the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center & Museum with his wife, Sylvia S. Tyndall, appearing as Mrs. Claus.

The Tyndalls spend the holiday season portraying Santa and Mrs. Claus.

“When you get older, and larger, and you grow a beard and it turns white, and everyone says, ‘You look just like Santa,’ what else do you do,” asked Tyndall.

He is the artistic director of Winston-Salem’s Stained Glass Playhouse and has performed with several theater groups. With that background in theater and his perfect St. Nicholas beard, it is natural for him to don a Santa hat after Thanksgiving and keep it on until Christmas, delighting children and adults wherever he goes.

Even in Walmart. There, he said he sees children peak around the displays to catch a glimpse of the jolly old soul and wave.

Tyndall was a mall Santa last year, but found the schedule difficult and “I don’t like sitting there as a prop.”

What he does like is interacting with the children, one-on-one, as they are perched on his knee sharing their Christmas lists. It is “just you and the child, a private time,” he added.

Tyndall doesn’t hesitate to use Santa’s powers of persuasion when needed. He told of talking with a little boy last week who said his sister had hit him in the car. The sister said the boy told her to hit him, Tyndall said.

Tyndall told her she had to apologize to her brother, even if he had told him to hit her, and she was so upset that she cried, he said. But later, she sought him out in the store and said she had apologized to her brother.

Tyndall — or Santa, if you believe, — told her everything was all right then, to her relief.

The Tyndalls’ program Sunday was based on the book, “The Autobiography of Santa Claus,” by Jeff Guinn. Tyndall read a synopsis of the story of St. Nicholas, starting at his birth in Lycia (now Turkey) in 280 AD, Tyndall said.

Nicholas had been orphaned at age 9, and his parents left money for his care. He felt guilty that some people were poorer than he, so he began leaving secret gifts for the less fortunate. He would sneak into homes and leave coins in stockings hung there.

“He was happier than he ever remembered,” Tyndall said. He had realized “there was nothing better than giving gifts.”

In time, word of a secret gift-giver in Lycia made it difficult for Nicholas to continue, so he branched out into nearby towns when he heard of people in need. As his scope widened, so did the stories and myths of the secret benefactor.

Eventually, Nicholas became a priest and later a bishop by day and gift-giver at night. He gained weight, and wore the red robes with white trim of a bishop.

But “fame became a burden,” Tyndall said, as more and more people asked for help.

Near Nicholas’ 63rd birthday, Nicholas had a dream in which he was told he would not grow any older. He got his affairs in order and, wearing his red robes, carrying a staff and riding a mule, he traveled to Rome where he met and befriended a runaway slave, Felix, whose freedom he eventually bought.

They traveled from town to town, finding needy families and delivering gifts to them at night, Tyndall said. Later, Nicholas met Layla, whom he married, and she traveled with them.

Through the years, Santa took on different names in different countries, started giving toys to children and picked particular days to give the gifts that are made in the North Pole.

Tyndall talked about the poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” written by Clement Moore in 1822 which introduced the idea that Santa made his Christmas Eve rounds on a sleigh driven by flying reindeer.

He closed with the end of that poem, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”


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