Thursday, December 5, 2013

Coffee with … Santa Claus

By Alan K. Stout
Westside Bulletin Correspondent

Santa Claus is a professional toymaker best associated with his tireless work during the Christmas holiday season. Claus, who is believed to be several hundred years old, resides at the North Pole with his wife, Jessica, who is best known as “Mrs. Claus.” Their extended family includes a workshop staff of 1,000 elves and nine reindeer, one of which has a red nose. In a rare and exclusive interview with The Westside Bulletin, Santa recently offered some insight into his magical life and why he continues to do what he does every Christmas Eve.   

 How did you first get involved with the whole giving-out-toys-to-every-kid-in-the-world-on-Christmas-Eve thing? That’s a pretty big undertaking. “If you have ever seen the TV special ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,’ they did a pretty good job of getting the story right. I was adopted by the Kringle family as a baby, who were the finest toymakers in the world. When I got older, I offered to deliver the toys to the children at a nearby town, and over time it just grew into a rather epic yearly adventure. I remember the first time I did the whole globe in one night, I thought ‘Never again. That was a bit much.’ But the kids really loved it, and there was really no way I could stop. I’ve been doing it every Christmas Eve ever since.”

What do you still enjoy about it the most? “Just seeing the joy that the toys bring to the children. People assume that when I get back to the North Pole, I must be so tired that I sleep for three days. But I’m still too hyped up on adrenaline to relax, and after working so hard in getting ready for the big night all year, I want to be able to enjoy seeing the children open their gifts. So I tend to look in on them for a few days through my crystal ball, and I get to see the joy. A few days later, it all starts to catch up with me and I get some rest. New Year’s Eve is always a quiet and restful night at the Claus home. Our work is done.”

When do you start to get ready again for next year? “February 1. I always give everyone the month of January off. They put in some very long days, especially in November and December, so I give all of the elves a well-deserved break. Then, on February 1, it’s back to work.”

What is your favorite gift to leave for the children? “Dolls for the girls and trains for the boys. My staff and I have seen every toy trend come and go over the years, and my elves are the best, so they can make anything, but at the end of the day, you can never go wrong with a doll or a train.”

Do you really leave some kids coal at Christmas Eve? Growing up, I never heard of that actually ever happening to anyone. “It’s pretty rare, but it’s been done. Usually, it’s the parents that insist on it, and so I must oblige. Clearly, they want to use Christmas as a way to teach their kids a lesson and improve their behavior. I’m not a big fan of it and I don’t do it often. I think it’s been a good 10 or 15 years since it happened to anyone. But the possibility is always there. I do have a list, and I do check it once and then check it twice.”

What’s your favorite Christmas movie? “It’s funny, but I tend to prefer holiday films that don’t involve me or films in which I have appeared. I enjoy ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ but I’d rather watch something like ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ or ‘A Christmas Carol.’ I love those stories and how they reflect the Christmas spirit.”

What about the children’s holiday specials? Do you watch them?  “Certainly. I love them. And with those, I do like the ones that feature Santa. ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,’ ‘The Year Without A Santa Claus’ and ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ are wonderful. I also enjoy ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ ‘Frosty The Snowman’ and ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas.’ They’re all very well done.”

What’s your favorite Christmas music? “Well, honestly, the most moving Christmas music to me is the holiday hymns that you might hear sung by your church choir on Christmas morning. Those are the ones that best capture what the holiday is all about. Christmas is not about Santa. I’m just a small part of its celebration. The Christmas songs you hear in church are the ones that remind us why we celebrate. As for holiday albums, I love the classics – Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra – albums like that. I also love the Elvis Christmas albums. The King loved Christmas. Sometimes when they’re working in the shop, the elves will be playing some of the more modern holiday music, such as Mannheim Steamroller or Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and I’ll stop and listen to it with them for a while. I like it. But in the end, just give me Bing singing ‘White Christmas.’ I love the classics.”

What do you do to relax? “I really do love anything that has to do with winter and the outdoors. We love to go sledding and skiing and ice skating. You’d think at my age, I’d have slowed down a bit, but I haven’t lost a step. Give me a toboggan and a big hill, and I’m as happy as a child.”

Any nicknames? “No. Not really. Some people think Kris Kringle and St. Nick are nicknames, but they are also my official legal names. People in different parts of the world prefer to call me by different things. To some, I’m Santa. To others, I’m St. Nick. To others, I’m Kris Kringle. As long as I am welcomed there, it doesn’t matter to me. Sometimes, if I do something wrong at home,  Mrs. Claus will call me Kristopher. She is the only one that calls me that. If I track in snow through the house, and she yells ‘Kristopher!” from the next room, I know I’m in trouble.”

Hobbies? “I collect vintage toys. And when I say vintage, I mean vintage. Though I’ve been making toys for a few hundred years, they actually go back much, much further. Dolls, toy animals and toy soldiers have been found on archaeological digs, and it is believed that the word ‘toy’ was first used in the 14th century. Any toy that pre-dates the Kringle-era of toy-making, I’m interested in.”

Favorite food? “I love sweets. Can’t you tell.” (He breaks into his famous “Ho-Ho-Ho” laugh.)

Favorite city? “They’re all special and unique. Obviously, with my work, I’ve been to all of biggest cities in the world, and also to every little town and village. New York and London really do Christmas well, but it doesn’t matter to me where it is – big town or small - as long as they are celebrating the holiday and I am made to feel welcome, I feel at home.”

Favorite vacation spot? “We actually stay north year-round. Sometimes if we want a little hustle bustle, we’ll visit Montreal or Toronto, but we tried the Bahamas and the Caribbean a few times many years ago, and it’s just not us. We’re winter people.”

Favorite color? “Red, of course.”

Favorite author? “Charles Dickens.”

Favorite book?  “ ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.”

Tell us something about yourself that people might not know. “Most people seem to know that my crystal ball allows me to look in on children from time to time to see if they’re being naughty or nice, but what they might not know is that it also allows me to see into the future. For example, the 51st President of The United States is currently six years old. And what she wants for Christmas this year are a few Hello Kitty items. There’s also a boy I know who is now four, and 20 years from now, he will pitch in the World Series. Right now, he’s into ‘Batman’ and ‘Star Wars,’ but I think I better also leave him a ball and glove.”  

Defining moment? “It was a few days after we did that first one-night global trip many, many Christmas Eves  ago. The thank you letters had started to come in from the children, and I read every one of them. And each one touched my heart. At the time, I didn’t know it was something I’d do every Christmas Eve. It was just something I wanted to try once. We had plenty of toys at the shop, and I wanted the children around the world to enjoy them. And so off we went. And a few days later, when I started reading those letters, I knew I had my life’s work and my life’s mission. There is nothing like the smile of a child, and as long as the Good Lord allows me to remain a small part of his special holiday, I will always be there for the children on Christmas Eve. Always. Some people say that I am a blessing, because I make children happy, but I feel I am the one that has been blessed.”