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In the middle of a pandemic, we’ve all got to do things that are different than in years past. Never fear, however, the magic of the season can’t be stopped. Lincolnton resident, Rich Rice, a/k/a “Santa” knew that he’d need to spread Christmas cheer differently than he has in years past. He generally takes his cues from the man upstairs and has faith that everything will work out as it should.

On Friday, he was busy packing his “sleigh” which in Rice’s instance is a Volvo, with his prayed-over pillowcases, bibles, small gifts for children, several Santa suits and new this year, a plexiglass shield as well as face shields to protect both him and those he visits from possible infection with COVID-19. Rice is heading out on a three state “Peace on Earth Tour.”

“Going back to September 17, the joy kind of got taken away from me,” he said. “I got a call from my Santa boss saying they weren’t opening Santa Town this year in Collierville, Tennessee. I had said all along I was going back there this year because I’ve got a connection there and I knew God had something else in store.”

Rice was planning to do virtual Santa visits this year, but instead he got a call from a casting director at the Hallmark Channel asking him if he’d take a cameo part in “A Nashville Christmas Carol.” The movie premiered Saturday on the Hallmark Channel. Rice appears briefly in the Nashville Christmas Festival scene.

“It’s very much a cameo role, but it’s breaking the ice,” he said. “I got done filming on a Monday and went to work the next day. I was wondering what I’d be doing.”

Rice realized that with his nonprofit organization, he could do a donation tour. While he could stay local, especially given the area now has two fewer men in red due to COVID-19, Rice thought he could reach more people if he took his ministry on tour.

“It’s going to be different this year,” he said. “No children will be able to sit on my lap.”

Taking his profession seriously, Rice is a graduate of Santa school. He’s essentially in Santa mode all year round. His name tag at his day job at Food Lion in Maiden reads “Santa.”

“When I put that suit on, people see it as magical, but to me, it’s the Godliness in me that comes out,” he said. “I believe people around me witness something they’ve never witnessed before and see where I’m coming from. I really believe going out on this tour is something that’s ordained. Something’s going to take place throughout the whole season.”

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