Santa's big scene

Lincoln man plays a role even when it's not Christmas
By: Todd Wilson, News Messenger Correspondent
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Ken Chiaratti doesn’t just play Santa Claus for the city of Lincoln. With rosy cheeks, white hair and a bushy white beard, Chiaratti is often mistaken for Santa in real life. Chiaratti said cases of mistaken identity have happened to him for the past 10 years. A couple of weeks ago, Chiaratti said, he was shopping in Walmart when he saw a couple of young children in a shopping cart acting up while their mother shopped. The children continued to act wild even after the mother asked them to stop. So Chiaratti said he took matters into his own hands. He walked over to the basket and gave the youth a message they could understand. “I’m Santa and I’ve been watching you,” Chiaratti told the children. “If you keep it up, I’m just going to put a lump of the coal in your stockings.” They settled down immediately and the mother thanked him, Chiaratti said. Occasions like that one made some Lincoln residents encourage Chiaratti to play the town Santa. Crystal Pierson, owner of the Fashion Fo’ Paws pet boutique, said she first brought up the idea of Chiaratti acting as Santa Claus. “I thought he would make the perfect Santa, the way he walks and carries himself. And he loves the kids,” Pierson said. “So I sent him on to other people to see what they thought.” On Pierson’s recommendation, the Historic Lincoln Downtown Business Association asked Chiaratti to serve as this year’s town Santa. Chiaratti spent the afternoons of Dec. 13 and Dec. 20 in Beermann’s Plaza as Santa for area children. “He’s done a great job,” said Lupita Ramirez, president of the business association. “He’s wonderful with the kids and he looks great.” The events were organized so that Lincoln-area families could get a photo with Santa. The ultimate goal of the event was to bring shoppers downtown to give something back to the community, Ramirez said. Dae McDaniel brought her 7-month old daughter, Leah Thompson, and her 14-year-old twins, Jade and Irish McDaniel-Routt. “I think he’s got a pretty good costume,” Irish said. Her brother Jade, also liked the business association’s choice. “They did a really good job picking out the Santa Claus,” Irish’s brother, Jade, added. McDaniel said it’s great that these types of events happen in Lincoln. She laments the fact that it costs money just to have children sit on Santa’s lap at local shopping malls. She appreciates that the photos with Lincoln’s Santa Claus are free. “Lincoln does these types of things all the time. It’s great,” McDaniel said. “For as much as it’s growing, it’s good to keep that small-town feel. That’s easy to lose and it’s one of the attractions Lincoln has to offer.” Chiaratti was also asked to play Santa by the Lincoln News Messenger in a number of Christmas advertisements for local businesses. Chiartti earned $400 for his work with the paper but he gave it away in the spirit of Christmas. “Whatever money I do get for being Santa Claus goes to the Police Activities League,” Chiaratti said. That’s not the only charity work Chiaratti does for Lincoln residents. For the second consecutive year, Chiaratti will spend Christmas Eve helping at Kim’s Country Kitchen, where his wife, Sherri, is the prep cook. He will deliver free Christmas dinners to those in need. Chiaratti said his reason for doing charity work is simple. “People out there need help,” Chiaratti said. “I’m just doing it to help people out.” Chiaratti said one of the favorite parts about playing Santa Claus is that he keeps the belief in Santa alive for the children in Lincoln. “As long as kids believe in things and don’t have someone take that away from them they’ll do well in life,” Chiaratti said. “They’ve got to believe in something.”