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Santa spreads Christmas cheer on corner of Main & Yosemite
Jerry and Haylee Carpenter smile while sitting on the lap of Santa Claus in the hut sponsored by the Downtown Merchants Association. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

It all started a decade ago for Ben Jetton.

Pulling the pants on one leg at a time, he slowly began to suit himself as one of childhood’s most fabled heroes. He was hoping that his brief tenure as Jolly Ol’ Saint Nicholas would bring a few smiles to the faces of special education students in Escalon.

And while the gig only lasts a month out of the year, he’s made it in an annual tradition to play Santa. He has been making his home at the corner of Main Street and Yosemite Avenue for the last four years in conjunction with the Downtown Merchants Association. He’s there daily from 1 to 5 p.m. through Dec. 24.

“I just love seeing all of the smiles as the kids make their way up to see Santa,” Jetton said. “It’s a sign that never gets old.”

Between now and Christmas, families wishing to have their picture taken with the Man in Red can stop by the parking lot at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street. Digital prints are available for $5. Parents can bring their own cameras as well.

But while the excitement of seeing him in person is enough to get even the most bashful youngster eager with anticipation, it’s telling him what they want under the tree that really riles the youngsters.

For 2-year-old Kaylie Johnson, it was an Encore Live Elmo that she wanted under the tree to serenade her with its animatronic features. It is an updated version of the model that created a worldwide sensation when it premiered just months before Christmas.

“It’s cute and funny and it sings,” Johnson said. “That’s what I really want Santa to bring me this year.”

Ever since he arrived at the Manteca location four years ago – as part of an attempt by downtown merchants to draw people to the area – Jetton says he’s been getting accustomed to the people that stop by in the afternoons for pictures and those who offer friendly waves as they pass by the busy intersection.

He’s even willing to look past those who don’t have the most appropriate gesture.

“For the entire amount of time that I’m here I’m getting honks and waves, and I’ve gotten to know a few people by name,” Jetton said. “And then there are the ones that give me the ‘one finger salute’ – there’s not a whole lot more you can do but smile and wave back and go on and spread the cheer of Christmas.”

To contact Jason Campbell, e-mail, or call (209) 249-3544.