With scant days left before Christmas, the Gabber caught Santa Claus in a quiet moment at Gulfport Cafe. While some assumed this Santa was an “assistant Santa” – one of Santa’s many cousins who helps Santa out at the holidays – Santa proudly showed us his very real snowy gray hair and beard and graciously agreed to give us some insight into what makes him tick. His answers weren’t quite what we expected, but then, we’d never met the real Santa before.
Our first question? How Santa has time to visit Gulfport when so many other towns get one of his lookalike cousins.
Seems that since Gulfport is such a small town, Santa can spare a few hours to stop by and see the kids who live here. He also said that he enjoys getting in a little beach time as the days grew colder at the North Pole. We’re not sure, but it seems like Santa might have been thinking about a midwinter beach holiday.
We also ask why he’s sipping root beer instead of his famous milk and cookies.
While he loves milk and – he’s quite specific on this – chocolate chip cookies on Christmas Eve, he says, every now and then he likes to go crazy with a coffee mug filled with root beer. He also asks everyone to leave out a carrot for the eight reindeer alongside his milk and cookies.
Speaking of reindeer, Santa wants to clear something up. When one young girl approaches him and asked “Is Rudolph the one who leads your sleigh?” he tells her this:
“We use Rudolph when we can get him,” but adds that Rudolph often has other things to do. “He wasn’t one of the original reindeer,” Santa tells the girl, then shows her his brown leather belt with all the reindeer names on it. Rudolph, he points out, isn’t on there. He always invites Rudolph, but Rudolph can’t always make it. Usually, he comes in to work when it’s foggy or cloudy.
What, we ask next, is the best part about being Santa Claus?
“Religion doesn’t matter. All are welcome,” he says, “I can talk to anybody about anything.”
How about one of the hardest parts?
“You imprint in kids brains ‘don’t talk to strangers’ and then you plop them in my lap and say ‘smile’,” he says. A lot of kids don’t understand that he isn’t a stranger at all, but a friend, and they might be scared of him.
Does that mean kids don’t have the Santa spirit?
“The spirit’s coming back,” Santa tells us. Although, in the past, he’s had parents who want to take a picture with Santa without Santa in the photo (they just want their kid in the chair with the decorations), he feels as though things are changing. “I’m seeing more young adults – 13, 14, 15 – who believe. They need something to hang on to. You can’t hang on to a Wii.”
Some kids, Santa explains, “aren’t sure if they believe.” He has about 30 seconds – when they sit in his lap – to make them believe. It isn’t easy. If they tell him they don’t believe in him, he simply asks them what they do believe. It’s enough to make kids think.
Do you really read all the letters kids send you?
Yes. “It’s the ones that say that they want their dad to feel better” that get to him, but he reads them all.
So can you really grant wishes and give kids everything they want?
Santa can bring you presents. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. And, while he knows if you’ve been bad or good, there are some things even he can’t see.
“I had a four year old boy who came up to me and said, ‘I want to know if my dad is coming home’,” Santa says, and he grows quiet while his eyes get a faraway, sad look. “I couldn’t answer him.”
The boy’s dad, Santa tells us, eventually came home, but Santa didn’t know that he would when the young boy asked. That’s the hardest thing about being Santa.
Just as we’re wrapping it up, we have one more question for Santa. So many homes in Florida don’t have fireplaces. How does he get in those houses?
Santa smiles. That’s a secret he won’t share.
“Faith. You’ve gotta believe.”