Christmas

‘The Joy Place’: 300+ Santas Adorn Home for Son Who Died in Iraq

Fernando Suarez Del Solar didn't believe in the joy Santa Claus could bring until he saw his son's face light up from the first figure they bought him in 2000

A photo of Jesus Suarez Del Solar.
NBC 7/Suarez Family

Traditional Santa Claus figurines, Plush Santa Claus dolls, Santas of different nationalities, miniature Santas and ones that sing and dance -- even a Santa Claus doing pushups.

You’ll find more than 300 versions of the jolly ol’ fellow in Suarez's San Diego home at Christmastime.

But the tradition serves a special purpose for the Suarez family, who lost their son, U.S. Marine Jesus Alberto Suarez Del Solar, in Iraq in 2003.

It all began in 2000, when Fernando Suarez Del Solar was out shopping with his then-teenage son. Jesus pointed to a dancing Santa Claus and asked his father if he could have it.

Fernando told his son "no" because it wasn't custom to believe in Santa Claus in Mexico -- they had other traditions of their own, Fernando said.

But in reality, Fernando couldn't ignore the way his son's face lit up at the sight of the man in red.

Jesus got the dancing Santa as a Christmas gift that year. The next year, they bought him three more. The year after that, even more Santas joined the gang. And a tradition began.

The Suarez family has 315 Santa Claus figures adorning their home for Christmas 2019 -- and that doesn't include the Santa pillows and blankets on the couches and the Santa suspenders and tie worn by Fernando on Christmas Eve.

Fernando said that through his son, he was able to realize that Santa was much more than just an icon for the holidays.

"He showed me he loved Santa and I continued this tradition... because Santa is the instrument that put in mind faith for the kids," Fernando said.

The Suarez family started decorating their home on Dec. 8 each year on Fernando's birthday. Carefully, they unwrap each of the dozens of Santa figures and display them on tables, in the kitchen and every open space they can find.

The decorations stay up for exactly a month. On Jan. 7, each one is taken down, dusted off, wrapped up and placed in a box with care.

The tradition is now much more than a way to remember their son. It's a way to remember to be joyful all year.

"I think the people need the love not only on Christmas (but) on every single day," Fernando said. "Santa represents the joy place, the love place."

To view this story in Spanish from our sister station Telemundo 20, click here.

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