By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published December 20, 2007
I told my kids I interviewed Santa today.
“Was he the real one?” asked my kindergartener, having determined that the man dressed in a red suit at our church’s breakfast with Santa yesterday was just one of Santa’s helpers. “Did he get our letters?” my 11-year-old daughter asked in all earnestness. My third-grade son checked with me, “They really just pass down the job like in ‘Earnest Saves Christmas,’ right?”
Who else but Santa would claim to own 80 red shirts (some bearing the words, “yes, I’m him”) and drive a vehicle year-round detailed with a sleigh, reindeer and toys—even sporting antlers and a red nose up front.
“Santa Jack,” as he’s called by those close to him, took a break from work to nurse a cold Monday. Mrs. Claus said that commitments took Santa out into inclement weather over the weekend but she is seeing to it that her spouse will be rested and ready for his upcoming trip.
And Santa would never let down the children. He takes his job seriously.
“It’s a big responsibility I took on when I decided to do this,” said Santa, who accepts that he is constantly on duty. “Even when I’m not feeling good, children may come up to me and I need to be very pleasant to them. They come up and I need to say something to cheer them up. It’s fun. I love it.”
There are “a million stories out there” he has encountered about children’s gift requests that range from bicycles to dolls to even more serious petitions.
“Kids may ask, ‘please get my mom and dad back together,’” he explained. “I always tell them that I’ll pray about it.”
Santa always makes time for children. Even when Mrs. Claus was ill and in the hospital he welcomed a special needs adult who adores Santa and had approached him in the corridor. “How could I disappoint him? How could I tell him that I was worried for my wife’s life and not stop and give him some of my time. … I don’t get tired of it.”
He stays busy throughout the year, whether it’s accommodating parents of newborns by posing for their child’s first photo op with Santa, speaking to a child while eating lunch at a fast food restaurant or frequenting nursing homes.
“I visited one lady who was 90 years old. She said to me, ‘I’ve loved you since I was a little girl.’ I told her that she was blonde then and that I brought her a red-headed doll. ‘Yes, you did,’ she replied. It isn’t just children who love Santa, it’s everybody.”
And Santa knows how to work the crowd, going up to each child to put him or her at ease before settling down in his designated seat.
“I love to see the expressions on children’s faces—even adults. I walk into a room and it just lights up.”
Santa Jack has been called to this missionary work.
“I don’t wonder why,” he said. “I just follow what (God) says. He leads me in the direction I am to go. I love children. It doesn’t matter if I’m at a Catholic or Baptist church and then the next day I’m at a Methodist church, it’s my way to give back to children.”
When residing in Georgia, he attends Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church. He sang in the choir there until last year when he retired. Mrs. Claus said that families with young children made it a point to sit next to the choir during Mass.
“The kids wanted to see Santa Jack,” said Mrs. Claus, adding that children also are apt to behave better for their parents in places like the grocery store when they see Santa.
“Santa is always watching.”
He also has on hand trading cards that ask the young recipients to promise to be a “kid of character.”
“Parents always enjoy that,” Mrs. Claus added.
She stays busy keeping Santa in top form.
“It takes a long time for him to get ready,” she said. “We have a check list with everything from Santa’s glasses to his belt with ‘Santa’ written on it.”
And he carries a staff with bells topped with Rudolph’s dropped antlers from the previous year. He must also never forget his magic keys that open any house without a chimney.
“Once he’s all dressed it puts us in a different frame of mind,” Mrs. Claus said.
She is a savvy shopper and keeps Santa outfitted in red shirts.
“He wears red all year round. I find them on sale and pick them up when I see them. He goes through a lot. The color fades so I need to keep a constant supply.”
He’s about due for a new suit, too, which she will most likely order through the Internet.
On very few occasions will one find Santa without his usual red shirt. Last summer though he cruised around the Caribbean with other members of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas.
“I didn’t take my suit,” he said. “I wore Christmas green shorts, green, white and red socks, a white silk shirt with gold trim and a shiny red vest. … We had a ball.”
Santa and his colleagues meet every year. “We’re a thousand strong and quite a few are very, very religious.”
He acknowledged the commercialism of the holiday season but tries to shift the focus to the spiritual side of Christmas by educating children on the symbols of the season and how they relate to Christ’s birth.
“It’s all about children and bringing Santa back into the church,” he said.
He donates his time and photo printing equipment for an annual event with Santa to support his parish’s religious education program for children and is helping also to fund the youth’s mission trip to Jamaica. He participates in community events, too, such as when he flew by helicopter to visit children in the hospital.
“I love doing things for kids.”
And there’s one special little girl in Florida he plans to visit this Christmas when all is said and done—his only granddaughter, who will perform in a recital. Santa’s daughter has warned the recital organizer that her father will be “very disruptive.”
“Why, is he ADHD?” the organizer asked.
“No, he’s Santa Claus.”
For more information on Santa Jack, visit www.santajack.us or call (770) 893-8302.