- 'Twas the night before Christmas
- when all through the house
- not a creature was stirring,
- not even a mouse.
- The stockings were hung by
- the chimney with care,
- in hopes that St. Nicholas
- soon would be there.
I am the Santa Claus in the Mission Valley Shopping Center. I get paid three dollars an hour and work a 40-hour week. I'm an actor and a mime, so it's just another job to get money to live. I hold kids on my lap and ask what they want for Christmas. A pretty simple way to make money. However, behind me is the Public Relations Department of the Mission Valley Merchant's Association putting on the biggest sales push of the year. My arrival was told in banner headlines in an advertising supplement in the major newspapers in San Diego County, Martha Davidson, head of the P.R. department, was very happy then first day; over 1000 cheering children and parents showed up at the May Co. to greet Santa Claus and visit him in his newly constructed house. Needless to say, sales promotion creatures had been stirring for some time.
- The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
- while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
My job is to interview the children, pose them for a picture, give them promotional material in the form of a coloring book, and send them out to do more shopping. The interview is the most fun. After questions about good children, had children, uneaten vegetables, and unbrushed teeth, I ask the traditional question: "What do you want for Christmas?" Ah, the eternal quest of something for nothing.
Here are the total results of my personal survey, conducted with a cross-section of San Diego children. The five most-wanted items for boys are:
1) Evel Knievel doll with accessories
2) Fire trucks
3) G.I. Joe-type male dolls with accessories
4) Bike or Big Wheel
5) T.V. Magic Show with accessories
The five most wanted items for girls are:
1) Baby Alive
2) Barbie with accessories
3) Rub-a-dub Dolly
4) Bikes or horses
5) Knit Magic
Not exactly sugar plums, then again Mattel Toys Inc. isn't Santa's workshop.
- When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
- but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
- With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
- I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
Next to Jesus Christ and the Beatles, Santa Claus is the most well-known, recognizable person in the world. He is a human cliche. The name changes from country to country, but the appearance, mannerism, and style have remained the same for centuries. Santa is a famous celebrity that is easy to imitate: the paradox is that the public wants to meet the star even though they know he's a fake. My company, American Photograph Corporation of Great Neck, New York, takes advantage of this situation. Parents can have their child's picture taken with the world-famous Santa Claus Superstar.
- More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
- and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
- "Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
- Now, Prancer and Vixen!
- On, Comet! On, Cupid!
- On, Donner and Blitzen!
How else can an actor prove he's Santa Claus except by rattling off the names of all the reindeer to a skeptical kid. Then add, "And Rudolf makes nine." It works every time, even on adults.
- As I drew in my head and was turning around,
- down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
- He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
- and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
My rented, fur-trimmed, red flannel costume comes from Adele's of Hollywood. It must always remain perfectly clean. It should be drycleaned only, at least once a week during the four-week run. My manual, "The Successful Santa," requires that Santa practice good hygiene, both physically and mentally. My company requires that I personally maintain clean costume and wigs. California State Laws require that white gloves be worn by any adults handling juveniles. Even though Santa Claus has a beard and long hair, he is not a dirty hippie or a dirty old man.
- His eyes--how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
- His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
- His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
- and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
My book describing makeup techniques, "How to Be the Real Santa," comes with a kit containing Max Factor most rouge for cheeks and Max Factor white linen liner for eyebrows. No other makeup should be needed or used. Eyebrows are whitened by drawing against the grain of brows with short strokes. Most rouge is applied to the cheeks with the fingertips, not too much on the nose though. It looks funny in the photographs. The fake white beard and long hair white wig that comes from Adele's of Hollywood. Both are made of vinyl to suppress fire danger. The face is almost completely covered, with facial expression reduced to a minimum. Not a hard fact for a Pantomimist to contend with, since the whole body can present a statement, but showing the adjective, merry, is still difficult with straps from wig and bear twisted around my head, punching my ears and squeezing my skull like a vise.
- He had a broad face and a little round belly,
- that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
- He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
- and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
There has always been a mystery surrounding Santa's stomach. A lightweight inflatable pouch, made especially for such a purpose, can be ordered from New York, mine didn't arrive in time. I have to rely on tradition. I use a half-filled floor pillow my girlfriend, Barbara, made for me. (She is also the manager of the Santa Studio, and the person that hired me), tied on with some straps from my backpack. A pillow takes longer to get the right shape when dressing, but it looks good since I spend most of my time sitting.
I can look plump, shake freely and be jolly, but I can't get out three "Ho's" in a row. I can repeat all the lines except the cliche laugh. "Ho, Ho," I can say with ease; it's the third I trip up on. I don't want to sound phony to the children, they are a hard audience, rather critical, in fact. My vocal interpretation is based loosely on the Nigel Bruce/Dr. Watson character. A kindly, bumbling yet knowing should with a lot of mumbles and chuckles. Pure acting technique is required to remain jolly after eight hours of kids (as many as 300 a day) and eight hours of strobe-light flashes from a camera nine feet away.
- A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
- soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
About 30 percent of the chidlren brought in to visit Santa scream bloody murder. The kids have no idea what's going on. Santa Claus is five times their size, his only recognizable human parts are his eyes, and the parents are in on the conspiracy to place the child on Santa's lap. The poor child has no one to turn to in his time of need; so he cries and cries, until a Santa's helper suggests that the kid come back later, much later. Parents should prepare their children for this traumatic experience with discussion, not just description. The only solution to tears is pure bribery, and I have a box of candy canes ever ready by my side.
- But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight,
- "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
Santa Claus is the hardest acting job I've ever done; the real problem, however, I couldn't figure out for the longest time. Each day I see the faith, hope, and love that only a child can know. Adults cannot undermine this belief in Santa Claus; it is a child's God-given right. The necessity to believe in something has been with mankind throughout the ages. Faith is the spark that starts the fire going, day in and day out. Hen finally, I realized the trouble. Even though I daily masquerade as Santa Claus, I'm starting to believe in Santa Claus, myself. I can see through the public relations, the gimmicks, the trickery, the fake beard, the phony padding, and the stereotype costume of an old toymaker that lives at the North Pole and once a year spreads joy throughout the world. All the children on earth can't be wrong, could they? Besides Santa does look like a living master, a sort of Maharishi Claus Yogi, preaching peace on earth and goodwill to men. That's something we all can believe in; remember, Christmas is not just for children, it's for everyone. And so is Santa Claus.