Ho ho ho! Whether you know him as Santa Claus, Old Saint Nick, or Kris Kringle, the jolly man in red will be welcoming kids of all ages to Downtown SLO's Santa's House in the SLO Mission Plaza beginning on Nov. 29.
Santa took a break from making his list and checking it twice to converse with New Times via email.
New Times: How long have you been Santa, and was it something you sought out or were you asked?
Santa Claus: This is my fifth year as Santa Claus. Six years ago, I was standing in line with my granddaughters at the Mission Plaza Santa's House, and the person in charge spotted me and as I had a full but shorter white beard, I guess I appeared to be a candidate. She gave me her card, and I thought about it for a few months before I gave her a call and told her I was willing to give it a try.
New Times: Do you do anything special to prepare, such as putting on a few pounds or letting your beard grow?
Santa Claus: At first, I grew my beard longer. Now, I maintain what I consider a proper Santa length. This Santa's normal weight seems to be doing the job.
New Times: How many children do you think have crossed your lap over your tenure as Santa?
Santa Claus: I would guess more than 1,500 children of all ages have spent time on this Santa's lap. And quite a few dogs. I have had a 7-foot Cal Poly basketball player, a 6-foot-2 fashion model, a TV star or two, a San Luis police officer, and a celebrity rescue dog with its own YouTube channel and website.
New Times: What sort of unusual requests have you had? Have there been any heartbreakers, like, "Santa, all I want for Christmas is my parents to stop fighting?"
Santa Claus: Probably my most unusual request was for some wood to build a piano. They did not want a piano; they wanted to build a piano. Santa gets heartbreaking requests every year. Santa never makes promises, even for toys, but parents fighting is a tough one. Santa tells them that they bring joy to the world, try to be the best person they can be, give hugs and support, and always remember that both parents love them and they must work out their adult situation between one another.
New Times: Do parents ever consult with you to be sure to get their kids the right thing?
Santa Claus: Some parents have asked me what their child told me they wanted for Christmas but none have coached me on a toy. I have been asked to talk to a child about doing better in school. Santa does not normally lecture children, and I do not ask them if they have been naughty or nice. I ask if they have been helpful to their parents or guardians. When they say, "yes" (and they always do), I ask them to give me some examples. I usually get silence and then encourage them to do helpful chores around the house (such as picking up their clothes) and do the best they can in school and in playing with their friends. Not lecturing, but encouraging. And implying that the "Nice" list always has room.
New Times: Is there a toy or request that's most common? Can you tell from year to year what toy is popular?
Santa Claus: Santa always consults with the Google Elves on the most popular toys for the year. The most requested items in the past have been Barbies and Hatchimals for girls and Legos and action figures for boys. This Santa does not encourage gender-specific gifts, nor does he discourage going outside the bounds of gender-specific toys. If they want it, we'll see what we can do.
New Times: Sorry, got to ask: Has a child ever peed on you? Do kids pull your beard?
Santa Claus: No children have ever had "accidents" on this Santa that I know of. Some sick children cough and sneeze in Santa's face. Santa eats an apple a day and takes Airborne and lots of vitamin C. Santa encourages parents not to bring sick children to the Santa line. Every year Santa gets the beard pullers. Some tugs are inadvertent (such as infants) and some come with that in mind. It seems to be some kind of proof that Santa is real.
New Times: When you get a scared or crying kid, do you have any secret or trick to calm them down?
Santa Claus: Santa tries to have reindeer bells, rubber duckies, and bubbles on hand to help calm the fears. Santa tries not to use candy canes to stop the crying, but some parents panic and start suggesting candy. Parents spend 11 months of the year trying to teach their children not to take candy from strangers, then bring them to see Santa ... Santa never panics.
New Times: What do you do when you're not being Santa?
Santa Claus: This Santa tries to keep the attitude of Santa year 'round, but I do have my own little elves at home who like to take adventures with Grandpa Santa.
New Times: Anything I haven't asked that you think people might want to know?
Santa Claus: This Santa always treats every child (no matter what the age) with dignity and respect and wants each child to leave Santa's House feeling a little happier than when they came in. Believing in Santa is optional. Good will and kindness to all is mandatory. Δ
Glen Starkey is New Times' senior staff writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.