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Santa taking wish lists until Christmas Eve in downtown
Santa waves to passing motorists at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street in downtown Manteca. He’s there daily from 1 to 5 p.m. through Christmas Eve. - photo by HIME ROMERO
For more than a decade he has kept his trademark beard nice and tidy and kept the belly laughs coming for all the good girls and boys in Manteca.

And between now and Christmas Eve, Santa Claus – also known around town as Ben Jetton – will be holding court in the parking lot of Bedquarters located at the corner of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street right in the heart of downtown Manteca. He’s there daily from 1 to 5 p.m.

“I really love doing this for the kids, and I get a kick out of all of the wonderful things that they come up with,” said Jetton on a gloomy but otherwise dry Wednesday afternoon. “I think this helps keep people in town and allows kids the opportunity to tell Santa what it is they’d like for Christmas.”

It’s been nearly two weeks since Jetton set up shop in the original Santa house provided by philanthropist Antone Raymus, and each day he draws an even larger stream of people who want to take advantage of the $5 pictures with the jolly red man. He estimates that the crowd this weekend will likely be the largest of the season . He plans to stay put until he has to leave to pass out presents to the children worldwide on Christmas Eve.

In the eyes of 6-year-old Dylan Laderoute, visiting Santa gave him a chance to wish early for the opportunity to have his entire family together for the holidays.

“I asked him to let me have all of my cousins over for Christmas so that I could share all of my stuff with them,” said a shy Laderoute. “I love getting to see Santa, and I love Christmas.”

From 1 to 5 p.m. every day, Jetton opens up the Santa house to prepare for the throng of holiday-spirited families looking to have a lasting memory in the form of a picture with St. Nick.

But not every child is necessarily willing to sit on the lap of a total stranger wearing a bright red suit and donning a massive white beard.
Jetton, however, even has those kids covered when it comes to taking pictures.

“Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at slipping down the steps and standing behind a child so that they can get their picture taken if they’re scared or crying,” he said. “It works pretty well. It gives the family something to look back on, and hopefully they’ll reach a point where they look forward to coming every year.”

All proceeds from Santa’s house go back to the Downtown Merchants Association, which sponsors the event every year.