Mark DeMonbrun lives by a simple philosophy.

“Always be yourself, unless you can be Santa,” he said. “And then always be Santa.”

Performing as Santa Claus at a variety of events throughout the holiday season, DeMonbrun works to embody the Christmas spirit.

DeMonbrun, 63, first donned the red suit back in 2015. After he and a co-worker had a friendly beard-growing competition for No-Shave November, DeMonbrun realized that he bears a rather striking resemblance to Santa Claus. He was asked to portray Santa at a work-related event, as well as in his wife’s elementary school classroom.

“I was hooked on it,” said DeMonbrun, who lives in Yakima.

Today, he makes appearances as Santa at fundraisers, charity events and stores. And he enjoys every minute of it.

“The most special part is just seeing the children’s faces light up. They’re so appreciative, and it’s still so magical to them,” DeMonbrun said.

One encounter with a particular child made a truly lasting impact on him. While volunteering with an organization called Footprints of Fight, which supports families affected by pediatric cancer, DeMonbrun met a 3-year-old patient. He remembers how excited she was to meet Santa Claus.

“Everything else went away for her, right then,” he said. “It just gives me a great feeling that I was able to make somebody’s day better.”

DeMonbrun has a passion for helping others. He is employed at Service Alternatives, where he helps adults with disabilities find employment.

He also volunteers for a variety of charitable organizations, both as Santa and as himself. While volunteering, he works with organizations that assist groups such as foster children, homeless families and people living with disabilities.

It’s important to DeMonbrun to be the best Santa possible. He has attended three Santa Claus training programs, including the International University of Santa Claus.

“I tell everybody I went to USC,” DeMonbrun said.

Through the International University of Santa Claus, he became certified as a professional Santa and earned what he calls a “bachelor’s degree in Santa-ology.”

He is proud to have also studied the Christmas spirit at the Michigan-based Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, which is the oldest Santa Claus education program. And he participated in an online program called The Santa Claus Conservatory.

DeMonbrun says that he enrolled in these programs so he can embody the true meaning of Santa Claus.

“Santa might not always be the person who delivers the presents,” DeMonbrun said, “but there’s a little of Santa in all of us.”

Natalie Keller is a freshman at Selah High School.