Volunteer Spotlight: Santa Claus

Christmas WaterFire, photo by John Nickerson.

Santa Claus – known as Ken Panciera on the off-season – will help bring the Christmas spirit to Providence during WaterFire’s Christmas Fire on December 18th. “As you get older, Christmas becomes more of a marketing type of thing – you lose the spirit as you get older. But I’m a kid at heart.”

Even though 2015 was Ken’s first year as a volunteer, he jumped in the deep end and has been a consistent, remarkable part of each event. Along with our many incredible volunteers, he’s part of what makes this city glow with light during the WaterFire season. “Providence is a great city, and WaterFire brings everybody closer together.”

Enjoying the warm glow of Christmas WaterFire. Photo by Jen Bonin.

Enjoying the warm glow of Christmas WaterFire. Photo by Jen Bonin.

Ken likens the simple act of coming to a WaterFire to Christmas dinner, where friends, neighbors, and family gather to celebrate giving and closeness. “The mission is to keep the fires burning, and to make people gather and just sit and reflect about their own lives.” And the giving? “80 or 90 percent of those putting on a WaterFire are volunteers – that’s pretty incredible.”

WaterFire’s Christmas Fire, especially, is a moving time of giving. Thanks to the Providence Rescue Mission, visitors will be bringing toys, canned goods, clothes, and more to be donated to those who need them. And all of those trees – they’re being donated, too. But well before agreeing to fill a couple of black buckled boots, Ken had a few concerns that needed to be addressed.

“I wasn’t going to volunteer for the Christmas one – it’s too cold, what am I nuts?” But then the spot opened up. Ken’s been hanging with Santas around Providence to get ready. “I’ve been practicing – I just can’t sit on my own lap.”

Santa arrives by boat at the 2014 Christmas WaterFire. Photo by Jennifer Bedford.

Santa arrives by boat at the 2014 Christmas WaterFire. Photo by Jennifer Bedford.

As Santa, Ken will get to his wish-granting chair by boat, waving and greeting the visitors awaiting his appearance. “To see Santa arrive this way as opposed to a mall Santa – It’s going to be cool to see them be excited to see Santa arrive.”

Aside from Ken, the event will be put on by over one hundred other volunteers, many of whom Ken has become quite close with over the past few months. “It’s like a circle of friends. It’s a family.” Everyone’s been preparing for the event, but perhaps none as diligently or with as much commitment as Ken – or, rather, Santa. “Well, I’ve been trying to eat up. You took my measurements, but I don’t quite fit the size just yet.”

He’ll get there.

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