By Jonathan Murrietta
When the temptations are greater than ever to give into our inner Scrooge this holiday season, there are people like Jim Miller who serve as an example to always find the Light in the darkness. In case you were wondering, Mr. Miller still plans to dress up as Kris Kringle this year. He will yet again set up Santa’s seating area outside his house, and wave to people driving by on Stearns, although this will be his last as the ‘Stearns Street Santa.’
You’ve seen his Stearns Street house so brightly decorated each holiday season, and this year is no exception -- again, his home shines with thousands of lights, displays a Manger scene, and a special sign hangs on his garage door.
“I’m enjoying Heaven, will you be there?” reads the banner today.
Joan Miller, Jim’s wife, passed away in 2018. Jim can recount numerous stories about how the previous ‘cancer-free’ signs, hung up every Christmas to celebrate Joan’s triumph over cancer, have ministered to people in the neighborhood. People going through hard times would drive by Jim Miller’s house on Stearns, see the gorgeous light display, read the ‘cancer free’ sign, and feel a little more hopeful that they too could experience a Christmas miracle, whatever their personal circumstances might be.
Some neighbors have even gone so far as to knock on Mr. Miller’s door to personally thank him for spreading hope and Christmas cheer. It’s become a Stearns Street tradition that Jim dresses up as Santa Claus each holiday season to wave to people driving or walking by on Stearns. Jim’s giving spirit and hopeful message displayed on his garage door every Christmas, has inspired people throughout the years to share their own struggles with Mr. Miller, aka the ‘Santa Claus of Stearns Street.’
Like the woman who dropped off a personal letter in Jim’s mailbox one day, detailing her collapsing marriage and how the ‘cancer-free’ sign gave her hope.
“You helped my broken heart to heal,” read the letter. “You helped my strength to return, and I will never think anything less than that God was working in my life through you.”
According to Jim Miller, the banner is a conversation starter and has been “a God thing” throughout the years.
Jim and Joan were married for 57 years, each filled with more miracles than the last. Five years had come and gone since Joan’s initial cancer diagnosis, and that’s when the banner became emblazoned with the number of cancer-free years. 5 years turned into 10, which turned into 20, culminating in 2017 when the sign read “22 Years Cancer Free, Praise the Lord!”
Sadly, the streak was broken in 2018 when Joan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, this time a battle she lost. That same year, Jim’s son Greg passed away as well. In spite of Jim’s broken heart, and with the help of the local community, Jim continued his holiday traditions.
“I tossed and turned to come up with what the sign should say now,” Jim says. “I called a friend from church asking her if she had any ideas. ‘Let me pray about it and get back to you,’ she told me over the phone.”
In 2018, the first Christmas since Joan’s passing earlier that year, the sign read: “23 years Praising the Lord, my new home, Heaven.” Today the sign, with a photo of a smiling Joan, reads: “I’m enjoying Heaven...will you be there?”
“Here’s how you can know for sure you will...” said Jim as he began to share his Christian faith with one of his neighbors, who was gazing up at the sign one day.
Once again, the sign has been a huge hit for the neighborhood and has allowed Jim and Joan to be a witness of their strong faith, giving hope to others around the holidays.
“God is still using her to minister to people, even as she’s in Heaven now,” Jim says.
In year’s past, Jim’s Santa Claus and Joan’s Mrs. Claus, stood as a Stearns Street tradition on the two nights before Christmas eve. They waved to the passersby, handed out candy canes, and let children sit on Santa’s lap.
Of course, 2020 has been tough for everybody for more reasons than one. On top of that, this year Jim Miller lost his other son, Gordon, who died in June. In spite of this trying year, Jim wants to spread Christmas cheer as he will dress up as the Stearns Street Santa one last time.
Mr. Miller will then pass the proverbial candy-caned torch to his son-in-law who will don the red suit and continue the tradition after this year. Jim’s daughter, Jill, will be alongside her husband Darren, wearing her mother’s Mrs. Claus outfit.
Like many people in the community, Jill has been working from home, while her three kids, Adrianna, Olivia, and Tanner focus on distance learning. “I know everyone will want to get out, especially this year, to see Santa [in person]” said Jill, who lives just down the street from her father on Stearns. “We want to continue the tradition that my parents started,” she said.
Even now, people drive by Jim Miller’s house and stop to admire his brightly-lit Christmas display. It can be argued that Mr. Miller could win any Christmas home-decorating competition, but the most important thing for Jim is the message behind the season -- “For unto us a Child is born” as a new decoration reads in his front yard.
As for Jim personally, who turned 80 years old earlier this year, he will continue to decorate his house to the max for future holidays, only maybe in the future, dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt while he supports his daughter and son-in-law as they take over the reins as the Mr. and Mrs. Claus of Stearns Street.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Jim says. “Just retiring the red suit,” joking that among the reasons for retiring, is that he’s lost all the Santa weight -- Jim started a new exercise regime logging 4 to 5 miles a day walking in the neighborhood. On his 80th birthday this past April, he walked 8 miles in a single day!
“I believe God still has more to do with me,” Jim says with a glimmer in his eye, which one can’t help but think resembles that Jolly Ole’ Saint Nick countenance.
In the meantime, you’ll no doubt continue to see Jim outside his house polishing his 1950 Chevy, which he likes to drive around the neighborhood, and if you get up early enough, maybe you’ll even catch him power-walking on one of his usual routes.
Despite all that’s happened in 2020, One thing remains true and constant during Christmas for people like Jim; as the classic Christmas hymn says, “Joy to the World, the Lord is come...let Heaven and nature sing.”
Stop by Miller’s house on Stearns (you’ll know which one it is) starting at 6pm on December 22, and December 23rd. Honk your horn, give him a socially distanced wave, an air hug -- whatever feels comfortable -- and have a look at Jim Miller’s beautifully decorated house and read his new hopeful message displayed on his garage door, as we say goodbye and thank you to the original Stearns Santa Claus.