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Greg Miller is a familiar, and welcome, sight in downtown Arbutus this time of year.
Greg Miller is a familiar, and welcome, sight in downtown Arbutus this time of year. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda)

Throughout the year, Arbutus resident Greg Miller, 60, is mistaken for Santa Claus with his rotund appearance, glasses, jolly demeanor and long, gray beard.

Kids often come up to him and yank on his beard to see if it's real, he said.

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"As he's had it, it's gotten longer and longer," Joeline Miller said of her husband's beard. "But we did have to cut it, because a kid got a candy cane stuck in it."

For those who need more official proof that he's really Santa, Greg Miller pulls out his driver's license that identifies him as Santa Claus.

"But it's not just the kids — it's the adults too," Greg Miller said. "They're just as ornery as the kids."

Although he won't be sliding down chimneys this Christmas, Miller will play Saint Nicholas, as he has for the past nine years, at a number of events throughout Arbutus with his wife of 34 years, Joeline Miller acting as Mrs. Claus.

It all began when Miller's friend, a day care director, asked him to play Santa Claus and he agreed.

"I told her I didn't have a suit," Miller said, seated in his cozy living room, surrounded by orange and yellow Thanksgiving decorations.

He made a suit out of a pair of overalls and put presents in a tool belt.

Now he has two real Santa suits, complete with black boots and a custom made belt.

And while most people were preparing their Thanksgiving dinners, the Millers were getting into the Christmas spirit.

Beginning with their appearance Nov. 29 at the Dewey Lowman American Legion Post 109's Breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Claus event, the couple will spend the much of the month listening to the Christmas lists of dozens of children.

They will also spread the Christmas cheer at the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department's annual old-fashioned train garden, the Arbutus Town Hall's Breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, the Arbutus Business and Professional Association's Santa House and other nonprofits in the Baltimore area.

All of those events in the Arbutus community are free, said the couple, who have lived on Carville Avenue since 1993.

Miller, who works for the U.S. Department of Defense, is also a member of the Arbutus Town Hall and the Dewey Lowman Post.

"It's been worthwhile to do this, giving back to the kids," said Joeline, who taught in Baltimore County public schools for 27 years. "The return is worth the cost that we put in."

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The couple has been to two Santa Claus schools: one at Claus Fest in Gatlinburg, Tenn. last April and another in Santa Claus, Ind. in 2002, where they learned how to be a better Mr. and Mrs. Claus duo.

Over the past nine years, Miller has listened to the Christmas wishes of thousands of children, he said.

They have dozens of stories to tell, some sad and some funny.

Joeline recalled one year when a little girl said all she wanted for Christmas was her mother who was dying of cancer, to live.

Sometimes it's difficult to find the right words to say, she said.

"But then there are the funny ones," she said.

Joeline remembered when one boy, who was about 8, asked for chemicals.

"He said, 'I want to be a mad scientist...and I need chemicals'," she said, adding that the boy said he was mixing the chemicals under his family's front porch.

"I went over to the father and I said, 'Sir, I think you need may come over to Santa and listen to what your son wants.'" Joeline said.

Others have been painful, for example, a time when a boy grabbed on Greg Miller's beard to try to pull it off to win a bet from his brothers, the couple said.

"There were tears coming out of his [her husband's] eyes," Joeline said, with a chuckle.

"But we enjoy it, we really do," Joeline said. "The children are our future and people need to realize that and make them happy."

The couple said their grandson Jackson Miller, 2, often calls his grandfather "Santa."

They have explained to Jackson that his grandfather isn't the real Santa — even if he looks just like him.

"I'm just going to keep on going until I can't stop, because I get satisfaction from the kids," Greg Miller said.

"Talking to a kid, getting down to a kid's level, speaking to them and understanding what they're trying to convey — all these children want is someone to listen to them."

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