For as long as Santa Claus has been keeping track of the naughty and nice children of the world, he’s remained somewhat mysterious: What’s he like? Is his job hard? Has anyone ever asked him what he wants for Christmas?
I caught up with Santa recently as he was holding court at the Durango Mall, and as a card-carrying grown-up, I was allowed to interview the big guy:
Q: Are you the real Santa or are you just one of his agents?
A: I get asked that question two or three dozen times a day. Many, many years ago, I started responding with: “Here, pull on my beard.” And they pull on it and I go, “Owwwww!” and they say, “Wow, you’re really the real Santa,” and I say, “You know, when I put my suit on, it’s a magic suit, and that makes me Santa.“ And they’ll often say, “I saw you in a couple other places just this morning,” and I’ll say, “Those were real Santas because when they put that suit on, the magic in that turns them into Santa.” So I tell them that everyone that wears that suit and loves children is the real Santa Claus. So, yes, right now, I am the real Santa. And it’s truthful.
Q: How many kids visit you every year? Do you know? Have you lost count?
A: Oh, I have never even tried to keep count. It’s been thousands and thousands. I’ve been doing it since 1991. And I will see, sometimes, over a hundred kids in one day, and when I’m in a parade, or a winter festival ... I may have hundreds of kids gathered around me at any one time.
Q: Do you get a lot of grown-ups, too?
A: I get more than you would imagine. A lot of the grown-ups will sit with Santa with their kids if it looks like they’re going to cry. Some little kids, around 2 years, 18 months old, even a little younger, I’d say a year to 3, you never know. It’s kind of a random shot you’ll get a screamer – some parents want that picture, it’s like a Christmas tradition. I do have adults throughout the season. Last weekend, I had a brother and sister, they were probably 17, 18 years old, who wanted to sit on Santa’s knee for a picture for their mom. My record is a 94-year-old woman, probably eight or 10 years ago, she came up on her walker and said, “Can I sit with Santa?” and I said, “Sweetheart, you bet!” She cuddled up with me and took the cutest picture. I said, “Who are you going to give that to?” and she said, “My little brother; he’s 85.” I’ve had college coeds – a lot of the girls from Fort Lewis will come in groups with their roommates and want a group picture to send to their families.
Q: Do you get cried on a lot or peed on a lot?
A: I have had wet and dirty diapers, but usually, they aren’t soaked through. It’s usually just an uncomfortable aroma (laughs). ... I’ve never been thrown up on, because sometimes you wonder when they bring them up to you, they’re nursing them, they’re giving them a bottle and they hand them off, and I’ve never been spit up on. I’ve never been peed on. Maybe I’m just lucky.
Q: Have you had any sad moments?
A: Oh yeah, every day. Every day. And Santa Claus is magical: He’s magic and he’s love, so children will come up and sit and they will ask to see their puppy or dog that died, their cat that died, their grandma that died. One little girl wanted to see her mom, and she asked me when I saw Jesus and talked to him if I could bring her mom back because she missed her. I get sad moments when kids will ask for a parent, and I will say, “Well, I don’t remember: Where is your mommy or daddy?” And they’ll say ... “My other parent won’t let me see them because they hate them, and I really miss them.” And those break my heart. ... The main thing about Santa is telling the kids it’s all about love.
Q: Do kids ask for things other than toys?
A: They do, and they ask for favors. One little guy, I asked what he wanted, and in the most sincere, mature way – he was probably 7 – he said, “You know, Santa, last year you brought me everything I wanted on my list, and that’s my brother out there in the line, and he’s only 6, and you brought him lots of good stuff, but nothing he asked for, so this year, could you give him all of my presents, ’cause I don’t need anything, just give it all to him?” I get things like that very often. ... The other thing that happens once in a while, they’re always hard on the heart, are little ones asking for me to get their grandmom or granddad or a family member through their cancer or their terminal condition. “My grandpa’s in the nursing home and he’s really sick,” “My mom’s in the hospital with cancer, can you fix that?” Because, again, Santa’s magic.
Q: One last question: Santa, what do you want for Christmas?
A: This is going to sound so trite: I really, truly in the spirit of Christmas would like people to remember that it is about giving and love and nothing else. That whatever creed or color or faith or anything, that we all just let (go of) the fighting and the disagreeing and ... it’s also about the children; it’s really about children. So, loving and caring and giving and taking care of kids.