“My first experience as Santa was like a lot of other Santas’,” said Santa Claus. “I was pressed into service. The organization I used to work for had an annual Christmas celebration, and 33 years ago they decided I was handsome enough to wear the suit. When they asked me to do it again the following year, I told them I would so long as they gave me a decent, professional suit that I could keep. I was their Santa for another 13 years — a good deal for them, I think.
“Since then I’ve upgraded to a custom-made suit, but I make most of my appearances in bib overalls and colorful shirts to reflect a Santa who’s working in his toy shop instead of out making deliveries. As a performing clown of 15 years I’ve found that little kids can be very intimidated by a costume character, my own grandson included. You never can tell. I’ve met with twins before, one unconcerned, the other terrified for dear life!
“I don’t have any one particular trick when it comes to being Santa. Beginning around August I start immersing myself in Christmas stories and movies to get myself focused. My favorite is Miracle on 34th Street, and my wife’s is Christmas Vacation. It’s wonderful that we now have such a proliferation of writing and videos by other Santas sharing their experiences. If I had that starting out, I’d have avoided a lot of mistakes along the way. I have learned that the best wax for my moustache is the same one that kids use to spike up their mohawks. The conventional kind melts too easily under photography lighting!
“I’ve been very fortunate to have a wonderful wife who steers me in the right direction most of the time. We’ve been married for over 41 years, and we’ve developed a silent communication in that time. When she accompanies me as Mrs. Claus, she has a great way of helping the more shy kids warm up to Santa. I suppose that’s something a grandmother is just able to do without even trying.
“Everything about meeting with the children is a huge reward. There’s no better feeling than when kids recognize me from last years’ visits — I get to remind them of a happy part of their lives. I have pictures with some from every year since they were born. It’s very gratifying and humbling at the same time.
“Sometimes kids will ask me if my beard is real, or why I’m so old. Sometimes they say ‘Wow, you’re fat!’ But their honesty is part of what makes them so special. Like every other Santa, I listen to endless requests for computers, Legos, and Barbies. I must have been asked for a Nintendo Switch by every other kid last year. A lot of kids show me torn out pages from the Sears catalog with every toy on them circled in crayon. But after doing this for so long, I’ve learned never to promise something particular. I don’t want to put parents on the spot, so I only promise things to kids that they’ll really like or need.
“Not all of my visits with the children are materialistic, though. I remember one young lady from a few years back who took me by surprise. She was challenged, which I have a lot of experience with. She sat on my lap, looked up at me, and said ‘I want a new brain.’ She explained that her mom told her that her brain is no good, which is why she makes mistakes. So I said to her, ‘Do you believe in Jesus? You know that He does not make a mistake, right? Then that means He made you on purpose, just the way you are, and He loves you.’ I think that was all right.
“Christmas is about more than presents, trees, and lights. It’s about family, and everyone else that you’re blessed to share the holiday with. To get to be a part of that, as Santa, is just about the most beautiful feeling I could imagine.”
Santa is happy to make the trip out to the Bismarck-Mandan area for daylong or weekend appearances. To arrange his visit, please contact Al Jastram at aljastram@cableone or (701) 200-3586.
Santa Claus loves to visit Fargo-Moorhead area stores, car dealerships, and naturally homes to meet with nice (or even naughty) boys and girls. To arrange his visit, please contact Al Jastram at aljastram@cableone or (701) 200-3586.
By David Scheller