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Oswego ‘Santa’ Spreads Holiday Cheer on Reality Show

Dec 09, 2015 11:31PM ● By Shannon Antinori

Photo provided by truTV

She may not have the big white beard, but Joy Gatz is a Santa at heart.

The 38-year-old Oswego resident hopes her natural holiday spirit will win her the title of “America’s Best Santa” on truTV’s reality competition show Santas in the Barn. As far as Gatz — known to fans as “Santa Joy” — is concerned, she’s a shoo-in for the title.

“I joke that I was just born this way,” she said. Born exactly a week before Christmas, Gatz said the winter holiday always overshadowed her birthday.

“My birthday’s exciting, but I’m more excited about Christmas,” she said. “I feel like December is a nonstop party.”

A crafter by nature, Gatz also runs a graphic design business specializing in greeting cards. According to her “Santas in the Barn” bio, Gatz loves to make Santa hats each year for the kids at Churchill Elementary School, where she often substitute teaches.

“Art was always my favorite subject in school,” Gatz said. “I love glitter, I love making things that sparkle, and Christmas is the season that embodies that.”

Santas in the Barn pits 10 would-be St. Nicks against each other in a lighthearted competition, where weekly challenges can be anything from making toys from scratch to building life-size gingerbread houses.

“The challenges are hilarious,” said Gatz, who has lived in Oswego with her husband Peter, an elementary school principal, for 10 years.

Gatz applied for a spot on the show at the urging of a friend, who thought she’d be a natural for it. Gatz said she saw the show as a chance to be a role model to adults and kids alike, including her daughters, ages 8 and 10.

“I’ve always encouraged them to follow their dreams and do what they believe in,” she said. “I love teaching kids that you can be Santa, too” by bringing joy to others.

Adults aren’t immune to the charm of Santas in the Barn, either. Gatz recently had a booth at the Village of Oswego’s annual Christmas Walk, where she said grown fans told her how much they enjoyed the show.

“It’s just fun to encourage adults, too,” she said. “Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you can’t believe in the magic of the holidays.”

Gatz said she was also drawn to the family friendly tone of the show, and the fact that there is a charity component. Each Santa is hoping to snag the most votes to win a $100,000 prize and the opportunity to donate to the charity of his or her choice.

Gatz isn’t the only unconventional Santa on the show, which also features a firefighter Santa and an elf. Unlike the cutthroat competition on some reality shows, Gatz said the Santas are like family.

“These are people that have good hearts, kind hearts,” she said. And far from being staged or scripted, Gatz said the show is authentic.

“These aren’t characters, these are real people,” she said. “I think we’re representative of people all over.”

Although Gatz had to be away from her family during filming, she said the support from home has left her speechless. She’s become somewhat of a celebrity in town, where she was recently chosen to light the Village of Oswego’s official Christmas tree alongside students from Churchill and Grande Park elementary schools.

Students at Churchill were also thrilled to see their teacher on TV.

“I walked into school and I had like 10 kids running at me,” Gatz said. “It’s the coolest thing.”

Santas in the Barn airs on truTV at 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and episodes are also available online. The finale is set for Thursday, Dec. 24.

Gatz said she plans to watch the final episode surrounded by her family. This year is likely to go down as the most memorable Christmas ever

“I feel like it’s my own Christmas movie,” Gatz joked. “Christmas is my big time of year, but now we’re in overdrive.”

Santas in the Barn