GARDNERVILLE, Nev. (KOLO) He may be from the North Pole, but some may not realize Santa Claus also calls Gardnerville home. Every weekend for the past 17 years, kids from all over the Carson Valley area come to meet Santa and tell him what they want.
But during the rest of the year, Santa goes by the name of Dwight Judd and people will see him greeting shoppers at the Gardnerville Walmart.
"It's about the kids," he said. "It's not about anybody else. It's about the kids."
In his red suit, Judd is unmistakably Santa. But even without the suit, he is stopped constantly by kids who see him as Saint Nick.
"Kids come in and they call me Santa, and they say, 'What are you doing here, Santa?" he said. "The parents say, 'Don't you know he's got to work and what's he doing now? He's watching to make sure you're being good, you're not being naughty, you're being nice and he's keeping an eye on you'."
To those who believe, Judd is the real Santa. Some kids hesitate, but Judd knows just how to make them believe.
"I'll look at them and say, 'Go ahead pull on [my beard] if you'd like,' so they'll grab my beard and pull on it, and their whole face goes 'Wow you are Santa Claus!'"
And he has been the 'real' Santa for almost two decades, following in his father's footsteps.
"My dad was just a special man," Judd said. "Special in my heart, and that's the reason I jumped in and took over after he passed away. He's with me every time I'm out here. He's with me all the time."
Just like his father, Judd's purpose is to spread Christmas cheer.
'It's in everybody's hearts," he said. "It's just a matter of getting it and pulling it out, and letting them accept it."
To every child he meets, whether as Santa or as Dwight, Judd shares the same message.
"This year I'm really trying to push on them being good for Christmas and being good year round is two different things," he said. "Understand that Christmas is about not just going out and getting the most expensive toy. Some parents can't do that, and it's not about the money. It's about being together."
As Christmas approaches, he also has a special wish.
"To all the boys and girls out there, you have to believe there is Santa Claus," he said. "I've always said the day you forget, the day you stop believing in Santa Claus is the day Christmas may never come. I want you all to have a Merry Christmas from Santa Claus."