How Was Your Day ... Mall Santa?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
By Nick Fouriezos
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
Kris Kringle, aka Santa Claus (aka Tom Ryan)
The North Pole (and, on the weekends, an outdoor shopping mall in Duluth, Georgia)
I woke up mostly excited. There’s this anticipation of being able to make people happy and smile. Sure, the day wears on. I work with my wife, Judy. We’re Mr. and Mrs. Claus. We talk to children, take pictures. My helpers bring water and cookies when we need a break.
I’ve been doing this since 2002 — 13 years. I’m 71. My wife and I just retired from our real jobs this year. We were both IT types. We worked on software application development. But, like Mr. Dickens said, I always tried to hold the Christmas spirit in my heart all year long.
I usually charge by the hour. [Santa declined to discuss rates.] This year, we start at 11 a.m. on Saturdays. We have breakfast at the mall and then head to the dressing room — otherwise known as the management’s offices.
There has to be a bathroom nearby — it takes 15 minutes to get out of my coat and suspenders.
Mrs. Claus makes sure I’m dressed right. Then we sneak out the back door and hop into the horse and carriage. They drive the carriage around, and we wave Merry Christmas to everybody. First stop: Barnes & Noble. We read stories to the children: The Night Before Christmas, maybe Polar Express. Kids tell me what they want for Christmas. I tell them more stories. Not war stories — ho, ho. More stories.
The kicker is, I’m Santa — and I have a real sleigh. It’s called a Portland Cutter, built in 1896. That’s 119 years old. Everybody piles in, all the children, mommies, daddies. We do that from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. There has to be a bathroom nearby — it takes about 15 minutes to get out of my coat and suspenders. My traditional outfit is the red with the white fur, gold buttons. I had it made by a costume designer, and it’s the one described by Mr. Clement Moore, who wrote A Visit From Santa Claus in 1823, which became the standard for the American Santa Claus. The flying sleigh, the reindeer names. The jolly old man. The “ho, ho, ho.” Rudolph didn’t appear until 1939 — it was as a marketing ploy from a store called Montgomery Ward. It was just a handout, about a million printed.
I have a beautician — well, I’d call it a hair stylist. Believe it or not, very few people can do a Santa beard well, without burning it up or turning it yellow. Most of the time, my beard is gray, but “magically” around Christmas, it turns white. I don’t cut my beard all the way off after the season ends, but I used to. I leave three inches. I get about half an inch a month, so by the time the season starts again, it’s back to 7 to 8 inches.
It seems to me that the world feels better, and children are happier, during Christmas. Even the adults. When parents come up and say, “Hey, you make a good Santa,” that feels good.