Ashland's Santa has been suiting up in red and white each December for five years and has starred in the city's parade four times, but this year he's embraced his seasonal calling with even more gusto.

Even Santa got the shivers — not from the chill but from the thrill — when he looked out over "the sea of people in the Plaza," gathered there to usher in the holiday season, he said.

As he stood in the glow of more than 1 million lights Friday, the jolly fellow couldn't help but reflect on the spirit of the festival.

"I'm just kind of awestruck by the sense of community, the smiles on everybody's faces and us all coming together in celebration and joyousness," he said, describing how he always feels when standing on the balcony at Alex's Plaza Restaurant & Bar after the Grand Illumination.

Ashland's Santa has been suiting up in red and white each December for five years and has starred in the city's parade four times, but this year he's embraced his seasonal calling with even more gusto.

"After last year, the Chamber of Commerce made a commitment to expand the Santa activities — and when they did that I decided that I'm going to let my Santa-ness flow even further, so I've not trimmed my beard since last season. I feel very much embodied as the character. Every time I look in the mirror I can hardly believe it!"

The holiday celebrity is already booked for a string of local festivals and parties next month, but he's made sure to reserve Dec. 24 for his journey back to the North Pole, he added.

Santa Ed

Meanwhile, his alter-ego, Ed Taylor, will be busy doing internet marketing consulting from his base in Ashland.

Taylor, 54, offers personalized videos from Santa to children — or adults — through his Web site, SantaEd.com. He also posts the $27 video Christmas cards on YouTube.com and sends recipients links to view them.

In the two weeks they have been available, North Pole Video Productions has already seen a flurry of interest in the videos, Taylor said.

"I take it pretty seriously," he added. "I try not to be fake — it's an authentic thing for me. I feel like I'm Santa all the time, even though I'm acting like Ed 11 months out of the year."

Taylor is so convincing that he has been tapped to model as Santa for publications and was asked to play the part of Santa for a mall in Washington this December. Although the gig paid $11,000, Taylor said he turned it down because he preferred to bring holiday spirit to his hometown.

Six years ago he was persuaded to assume the role by a friend who had volunteered to be Santa at an Ashland Springs Hotel event, but at the last minute the friend couldn't make it and asked Taylor to fill in.

"And I just had a blast," Taylor said. "It was so much fun. There's such a heartwarming feeling, seeing the smiles on everybody's faces — it's just the spirit of Christmas."

Rewarding work

The following year, he decided to star in a Jacksonville holiday parade. After that, the man in the suit became a hot commodity during the Rogue Valley's colder months.

The job also keeps Taylor hip to what the hot holiday toys are, he said. This year, he has a long list of children wanting the new, purple My Little Pony toy — although one girl wants a real pony — the Nintendo Wii, remote control cars and dolls, Taylor said.

Still, Ashland's Santa tries to focus not on the commercialization of the holiday, but on the spirit of it — and, of course, who has made his nice list, he said.

"Wishing people 'happy holidays' when you see them on the street or shoveling a neighbor's driveway — things like that are easy to do and there's no cost. And that's a great way to get on my nice list."

Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226.