Dec. 24, 2006
By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Santa has a secret.
'It's bad, but I've got to tell someone,' Santa Claus told a newspaper re porter one day at Temple Mall. 'House after house, it's always the same. Cookies and milk. Cookies and milk.'
The jolly old elf wasn't badmouth ing his most favorite snack. It's just that he works up a mighty appetite on Christmas Eve, flying around the whole world, unloading toy after toy.
'I need something more substantial. I get hungry on Christmas Eve. I mean real hungry,' Claus said. 'This year, I am telling kiddos that I'd like a big, old thick prime rib.'
Don't worry, though. Temple Mayor Bill Jones was quick in volunteering to leave Santa a plate of steak and potatoes.
'It would be an awful shame for San ta to go hungry,' Jones said. 'Well it won't happen, not here in Temple. I'll make sure Santa gets his prime rib.'
Claus has wintered in Temple for the past six years, each December conducting photo shoots with area children who come to Temple Mall looking for a holiday keepsake.
'The other Santas who look like me - the ones in New York and California - are elves helping me to be in lots of places at once,' Claus explained. 'Some of the lookalikes are grown up kids who work with the North Pole as free-lance Santas on a contractual basis.'
When the reporter met Mr. Claus, Santa was on his afternoon break, stretching his legs after an entire morning of letting children climb on his lap.
But Santa wasn't tired. He wanted to talk about the subject of the season - Christmas with all its toys and good little girls and boys.
'The season so far has been great,' Claus said to the reporter. 'I've had a steady stream of folks coming to see me.'
Toddlers of all shapes and sizes from Temple started climbing on Santa's lap the first week of December, and he said he was glad to see every one of them.
'You're never too old, never too big to come see me,' Claus said followed by a hearty 'Ho Ho Ho.' 'In Temple this year, I've had a baby at a day-and-a-half and a lady at 102 come see me.'
The toy maker said he received a lot of Christmas orders for guitars and pianos.
'I sure did have a lot of kids ask me for flashlights,' Santa said, tugging his long, white beard, in no way fake. 'I thought it a bit odd, but I can remember a game or two where a flashlight would have been nice.'
Of course Santa got some requests for pets, but he said pet delivery is tricky and sometimes not possible.
'I worry about puppies on the way from the North Pole, flying through the cold night air,' Claus said. 'I'm afraid that when I land, they'll be Puppycicles - or Kittycicles, if they were kitties to begin with.'
And nobody wants a frozen furry friend. But with some advance planning with Mom and Dad, Santa says he can finagle a pet present or two.
So most of Santa's requests this year have been standard.
'I haven't had any bizarre, out-of-this-world wants,' Claus said. 'Though one boy did ask me for real live iguana. He didn't tell my why he wanted one, though he did say something about surprising his mother with it.'
That order poses a problem for Santa.
'There aren't too many iguana sightings in the North Pole,' Claus said. 'But I'll figure something out.'
Standing taller than all of the daddies at the mall that day, Santa Claus towered over everyone and everything, except for the giant Christmas tree behind his giant, cushy green chair.
He sported his usual red-and-white outfit, belt and black boots.
'Mrs. Claus shined my boots. Aren't they nice?' Clause asked, lifting his right foot. 'Of course, these aren't my only pair. I have 852 of them. Can't have enough boots.'
Santa's belt was brown, made of leather. In the front it had a gold buckle. On the back, there was Santa in his sleigh pulled by eight - no nine - tiny reindeer. Rudolph with his bright, red nose was leading the way.
'One of my leather-working elves made it for me, just for me,' Claus said, cooing over his gift. 'This is my most special belt.'
And like the beard, the belly behind the belt wasn't fake.
'Come on. Poke,' Santa said to one skeptic, protruding his stomach a bit further out. 'See, that's no pillow.'
Mrs. Clause is in excellent form, by the way.
'The wife's at home, resting up,' Clause said. 'She'll have a busy day Christmas Eve, helping me prepare for the night.'
Mrs. Claus will have to feed the reindeer and make sure Santa has everything he needs for his journey.
'Mrs. Claus will have to give Rudolph's nose a real good polish, so it can be bright as possible,' Claus said. 'I think it will be pretty foggy in Temple late Christmas Eve.'
Santa didn't want to say anything else about his reindeer because he didn't want to make anyone jealous.
'All my reindeer are my favorites. Same thing with the elves,' Claus said. 'I hold no elf above all the other elves.'
And news to the staff at the Temple Daily Telegram, Santa said there are girl elves.
'And I'm not getting in on the debate about which is better, girl elves or boy elves,' Claus said. 'They are all great: Reindeers, elves, boys, girls and all.'
When Santa's not at the North Pole or Temple, he said he likes to be in Dallas.
'I have some mail sent to Dallas,' Claus said. He has a U.S. Post Office box there. 'But I'm in Temple more often than not. You've probably seen my car.'
The license plate on Santa's dark green car says 'SANTA1.'
'It's real easy to spot,' Santa said. 'I usually leave my car parked in Temple while I'm at the North Pole. One of my elves built me a super fast green plane that gets me back and forth from the North Pole to Temple and Dallas.'
One child asked him why he didn't use the plane on Christmas Eve and leave the sleigh at home. Santa said the sleigh goes even faster.
In the summer time and at Easter, Santa isn't always in the North Pole.
Santa says he visits Temple and other stops in Central Texas on a fairly regular schedule. Mr. Claus says he likes the scenery, the fishing and the people.
'There are some people in Temple nursing homes whom I visit real regular,' Claus said. 'And a lot of times I come to Temple to have dinner with some special families.'
These special families get to have private dinner parties with Santa because they have children who Santa himself was able to hold at least once a year since they were born.
'Several of these Temple kids have grown up before my eyes like magic,' Claus said. 'And it's special when they keep on coming back, never getting to old for me - like the 102-year-old lady.'
Despite his affection for Temple, Santa said he hopes to be out of state from May to October next year.
'I've applied to be myself at the Santa Indiana Theme Park in Missouri,' Claus said. 'I'm not sure I've got the job.'
Earlier this year, Santa auditioned to be himself on the TV show 'Barney and Friends.'
'I got that gig,' Santa said. 'But because of duty commitments at the North Pole, it didn't work out. I had to turn them down.'
Santa says the opportunities to work at the Santa Indiana Theme Park and 'Barney and Friends' come from his membership with the National Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas.
'The problem is that some of the Santa lookalikes are just too darn good,' Claus said. 'And they end up getting the job. But that's OK. I really don't need to take anything else on.'
He laughed at his lost career(s).
'There can only be one Santa,' Claus said. 'And that's me. I am Santa Claus 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days per year.'
And before the newspaper reporter knew it, her interview with the real-bearded, real-bellied Santa Claus was over.