Claus: ‘I’m as real as you want me to be’Written by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
NORTH POLE — The warmth of a roaring fire and a steaming cup of hot chocolate are almost enough to make one forget the outside temperature dwells at 60 degrees below zero. The wooden arches that frame the cavernous workshop protect an organic factory of scurrying elves, some pulling wagons filled with freshly painted toys, some carrying armloads of doll parts, toy car parts and the puffy stuffing of countless teddy bears.
The chaos explodes into cheers as curved wooden doors open to reveal a figure in fire-engine red pants and a matching coat, trimmed neatly with white fur.
His presence is overwhelming, even to the workers who have served his cause for centuries. He carries himself lightly for a man of such girth; his smile is directed at no one in particular, but has the effect of a strong and comforting hug. He shakes off clinging snow, removes his crisp red hat and slips out of his voluminous coat. He is wearing black suspenders with gold buckles over a thermal underwear shirt. He crosses the room in three great strides, and despite the red marks of freezing cold on his cheeks, offers a surprisingly warm handshake.
He smells of apples, cinnamon and pine needles, with a faint hint of chimney soot.
His frame fills a green upholstered chair; he pushes his oval glasses up on his nose and surveys the busy workshop with lucid blue eyes.
His legend, which dates back to the 4th century, is as pervasive as any secular figure or religious icon in Western civilization. He is man, myth and magic. He reportedly fills a single sleigh with toys each Christmas Eve, harnesses it to eight reindeer and flies around the world, sliding down chimneys and slipping through doors to deliver toys to good boys and girls. He is Father Christmas. St. Nicholas. Kris Kringle. Jolly Old St. Nick.
He is Santa Claus.
Toledo Free Press: Have you made your final decisions on who has been naughty and who has been nice?
Santa Claus: We evaluate that up to the very last minute. The closer we are to Christmas, the better behaved most children are. We average the entire year’s behavior, so the holiday spike doesn’t let any naughty children slip through, but I make the final call, not the numbers. There are very few truly naughty children. Children often have circumstances that make me wonder how they retain any joy and hope.
TFP: Do kids believe in you like they used to? It would seem today’s kids are more informed, to say the least.
SC: It’s a challenge. Kids see Toys ‘R’ Us, TV commercials, online stuff. They know about Hasbro and Mattel; they see ”Made in Taiwan” and it pushes our workshop right out of their minds. The trends are the same as they have always been; kids stop believing as they grow, but they always come back when they have children of their own. And we’re always here for them.
TFP: How do you compete with some of the media you mentioned? TV, Internet, etc.
SC: We don’t compete. We’re not Disney, trying to burn a brand name into kids’ brains. We cooperate with all the major toy manufacturers to make sure we have everything we can’t make here; we’ve never been big on electronics, for example. Elves have only four fingers, and they have a difficult time with the tiny wires. I have never worried about being forgotten. Our work has lasted through world wars, social revolutions, disaster of every magnitude. When a child is born, his or her belief in me is in their heart, just like love, friendship, joy of living. They have to learn about Xbox and Barbie and Hot Wheels and Star Wars. I’m there from the start.
TFP: Do you use technology to make your yearly trip easier?
SC: Technology? Ho, ho, ho! We don’t deal in technology. We deal in magic. I don’t need circuits or Pentium chips to look into a little child’s eyes and listen to a whispered wish list. Hugs do not require high-speed Internet. Has Bill Gates figured out a way to peer into every home in America? Well, ho, ho, maybe that’s a bad example. The point is, I am powered by faith and belief, not wireless computers and cell phone ringtones.
TFP: Who pays for all of this?
SC: Who pays for the season’s first snow? Who pays for a rainbow? Who pays for a smile? Who pays for magic? TFP: What’s the most-asked question children have for you?
SC: They always ask about the reindeer. What they eat, where they play, can they come over for a birthday party, that kind of thing. They want to know if Rudolph is real.
TFP: Is Rudolph real?
SC: There is a Rudolph, and while he doesn’t fly with the team every year, he’s always ready if we expect fog or heavy snow.
TFP: Do you have Christmas music playing all year?
SC: 365 days a year! We love the holiday music, and it keeps us motivated.
TFP: What’s your favorite carol?
SC: You gotta love the classics. ”Silent Night.” ”Deck the Halls.” ”Frosty the Snowman.” Mrs. Claus is partial to ”Here Comes Santa Claus,” but I have a difficult time walking around singing my own name. The elves keep me up to date by playing the new stuff. I enjoy the jazzier music. I was disappointed by last year’s Christmas CD by the Barenaked Ladies. They’re good boys, but that wasn’t their best effort.
TFP: What about the TV specials and movies?
SC: After the big trip, the large radar screen shows movies. We run the Charlie Brown and Grinch specials, mixed with just about every Christmas movie you can imagine, except that terrible Tim Allen movie from last year.
TFP: Which actor did the best job of portraying you in a movie?
SC: I don’t like to play favorites, but I’ve liked seeing Ed Asner play me over the years. He has a good Santa stomach.
TFP: Does it bother you to see people dressed as you in shopping malls and parades and parties?
SC: Not at all. It’s confusing to the children sometimes, but there’s something transcendent and eternal about the suit. It makes people happy, both the wearer and the audience. I don’t like it when I hear of someone dressed as me being grumpy or unkind, but I learned a few hundred years ago that I can’t control everything.
TFP: What do you think of the illustrations that show you bowing at Christ’s manger?
SC: I reflect and respect the beliefs of the families who believe in me. Every religion of the world places me subservient to its icons, as they should. I bring joy and happiness, but spiritual fulfillment does not come from toys and games.
TFP: After all these years, do you still enjoy your work?
SC: It’s not work. Making children happy is the easiest thing in the world. I have a purpose and focus that keeps me feeling young and loved and ready for anything. The hard part, the real work, is on your end. You have to struggle to believe in me, to keep me alive. You have to push aside the delusions and cynicism of adult life to breathe life into me, to keep me real.
And I am real. I’m as real as you want me to be.