Posted by Natalie Nisco-Frank on June 12, 2016 in Blog
For many, Christmas represents a time of hope and joy, and for those who knew Robert George, Christmas did not just come once a year. Born in 1924 to Lebanese parents, George was inspired with a vision in 1949 to “become Santa Claus”. When he moved to Los Angeles a few years later, George transformed his home into a year-round Christmas display, decked with Styrofoam snow, twinkling lights, a toy train, and thousands of donated toys. In 1956, word of George’s Christmas “Dreamland” reached President Eisenhower in the White House, who appointed George as the first official presidential Santa Claus. George remained White House Santa through six presidencies, serving Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush.
A fixture in his Los Angeles community, George dedicated nearly 50 years of his life to instilling “the true Christmas spirit in the hearts of everyone, especially the underprivileged, handicapped, elderly and sick.” His Christmas display was frequently visited by children’s groups, including kids from the Jeffery Foundation for the Handicapped and the group Parents and their Child’s Epilepsy (P.A.C.E.). Mothers from P.A.C.E. described George’s home as a “special, warm and safe place for them” and a “symbol of Christmas… [that reminds visitors to keep their] home and heart…open all the time to give, share and receive.” If George wasn’t at his home “workshop”, it was because he was bringing Santa to other places in need, including orphanages, hospitals and community centers. Partnering with local firefighters, George distributed toys to disabled and terminally ill children. He also baked and delivered cookies and fudge to the elderly. For these visits, George had a total of 38 custom-made Santa Claus suits.
Although his real love was visiting children, George also accepted invitations to attend White House Christmas events from several presidents. After his first tree-lighting ceremony, President Eisenhower declared George was “the most beautiful, blue-eyed Santa” he had ever seen, prompting George’s appointment as the official presidential Santa Claus. For the next 25 years, George visited the White House for Christmas season and listened to the wishes of six presidents, all of whom asked for world peace along with a personal Christmas blessing.
After his death in 1998 George was endearingly remembered by many friends, family and admirers. President Carter, the president with whom George became closest, expressed that his entire family was “deeply saddened” by George’s passing. Radio personality Casey Kasem honored George’s mission to serve others by noting “there’s an old saying that service to others is the rent we pay for a room in heaven. Robert deserves a suite.” Although he passed in July, those who attended George’s funeral sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in memory of his mission to embody the values of service, love and joy twelve months a year.
Read more stories about Arab immigrants and their descendants on the "Together We Came" main page.