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Creighton’s ‘Campus Santa’ revels in making spirits bright

Creighton's It’s said the true performer lives his act.

So when the act is Santa Claus, the life is Christmas — all the year round. And nothing could make Justin Burgett, Creighton University’s campus Santa, happier.

“I’ve always loved Christmas, always been intrigued by Santa Claus,” said Burgett, who is making the rounds of campus for his second annual turn as the jolly elf in red. “I have great memories of my family Christmases as a kid, going to my grandmother’s house, being with all the family and having fun. My grandmother was really in love with Christmas, too, and she had that kind of prototypical Santa spirit: very jolly, very warm and welcoming.”

Burgett — whose day job as an estimator in Creighton’s Planning and Design division is perfectly suited to knowing the hopes of University administrators (Creighton President the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, SJ, rather sanguinely asked for a new library when he came in for a picture with Burgett as Santa last year) — first started his Claus portrayal five years ago.

With his silvery beard — “I get the beard tug every now and then, and not just from the kids,” Burgett laughed — and a Santa cap, Burgett said he Santa Claus, aka Justin Burgettstarted ringing bells for the Salvation Army. When passing children gave him a second glance and felt compelled to tell him that they should be on the Nice List, Burgett thought he might have a chance to give Santa a try in full red kit.

“It’s a way of giving back,” Burgett said. “I love kids — I’ve got six of my own, including one named Nicholas — and being able to see them excited and happy during the Christmas season is the best part of being Santa.”

Since then, he’s offered his services to businesses, hospitals and shelters looking to bring people a bagful of holiday tidings. In some instances, Burgett has found institutions already have a Santa installed, but he continues to keep his name out there and expand his Santa repertoire.

Last year, the University was looking for a Santa to greet students and pose for pictures in the Skutt Student Center and Burgett eagerly volunteered. He also paid a visit to Creighton’s littlest students at the Russell Child Development Center. This year, he’ll keep both of those appointments on Dec. 7 and he’s also broadening his range, visiting buildings across campus.

Santa Claus, aka Justin Burgett, leans in to hear the Christmas wishes of a youngster at Creighton's Russell Center for Child Development.“I enjoy it and I think other people enjoy it, too,” he said. “For the younger kids, it’s a memory I hope they have for their lifetimes. For the older kids, I hope it brings back those memories of Christmas when they were younger. It’s a chance to get in touch with what Christmas is all about.”

True to his calling, Burgett maintains his Santa spirit throughout the year. He signs his emails “Santa Justin,” is often to be seen in red around the office, decorates his desk in an elf’s ransom of Santa paraphernalia, and is known to put his name in at restaurants as “Kris Kringle” with a wink straight out of Miracle on 34th Street.

And the beard? Burgett shaved it completely after last year’s turn as Santa, but his wife missed it and it’s back to stay. Besides, it’s also a reminder to Burgett and the rest of us, vying for our place on that double-checked list, to keep the magic alive.

“From watching Santa movies and talking to other Santas, I learned that you really do have to make it an all-year thing,” Burgett said. “And that’s great for me. Some people have Halloween or other times of the year that they love. My time is Christmas. Why not keep that spirit all year?”

Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.