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Confessions of a Santa

A “Santa Rep” for over three decades gives us a glimpse “behind the beard”

By Michael Summers and Doug Marti

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2016-12-16


We can all agree that Christmas is a busy time of year. We’ve all got a billion things to do around the holidays. But without a doubt, Santa Claus has us all beat. He’s literally got a billion things to do, and that’s not even counting all the pre-Christmas meet-and-greets and other promotional activities. Even he can’t be everyone at once, so he sends out representatives just to make sure all the boys and girls get a little face time with the big bearded one.

“It’s one of the frequently asked questions I get: ‘Are you the real Santa?’” says Doug Martin. “My typical answer is that Santa has many helpers all over the world, and we are all part of the real Santa.”

Works for us.

Martin has been serving as Santa’s rep in our part of Indiana for over three decades. “I started playing Santa when my son was only 1-year-old,” he says. “This month he turns 34 so that makes 33 years playing the big guy. My mother made me my first and only red suit in 1983 and it has been worn every year since.” He’s had the gig for so long that he’s now “playing” Santa for a second generation of kids. These days, he sometimes takes along his grandson — who just turned two — on visits as one of his elves.

Martin generously (well, of course he’s generous; he’s Santa) shared his many experiences as a Santa rep, and gave us a glimpse of the Christmas season from “behind the beard.” But we’ll let him tell it in his own words…


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I have played Santa for groups of 1 to 100 and in a multitude of venues: churches, schools, businesses, private homes and even hospitals. On occasion I have experienced very touching moments from the kids who show examples of unselfish gestures and love. Some kids ask for presents for their parents or siblings. And on a few occasions I have had kids ask Santa for their Mommy or Daddy or other family member to get better because they had been very sick. One little girl said their Mommy was in the hospital because she had cancer and all she wanted was for her to come home in time for Christmas. Santa had an extra big hug for that little girl that day. Sometimes the kids are the sick ones in a hospital and it is always heart-warming to get a smile from them even if through an oxygen tent in spite of a multitude of IV lines and tubes.

Santa has to stay on top of what the kiddie consumers ask for each year. It is not an easy task, especially with the rapid evolution of all the electronic toys and gadgets since 1983 when I first began wearing the red suit. To put it in perspective, the Sony Walkman and the Commodore 64 were the most asked for gadgets in the early 80s. Through the years I heard requests for Atari, Game boys, Nintendo, and eventually multiple versions of Play Stations. Today, cell phones, iPads and even drones are on the list of many kids over the age of 8. I can’t even imagine what will be on their Christmas list 10 years from now.

Of course there are many low-tech toys which seem to stand the test of time and are popular requests: dolls, (especially Barbie & American Girl dolls), doll houses, bikes and Legos top the list.

Whenever there is a new popular animated or kids’ movie Santa is sure to get requests for doll characters and other toys seen in the movie theaters over the years from Ninja Turtles to Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek to Nemo to Star Wars to Frozen and oh…back to Ninja Turtles again. I try to stay informed.

Animals often make it to the Christmas list for kids and that runs the gamut from the expected to the not so expected: puppy, kitties, hamsters and ponies are popular requests, but I have been asked for “live” monkeys, tigers, lions, giraffes and even elephants.

The past few years the kids and parents talk about the “Elf on the Shelf.” This popular character, originally based on a book, is an elf doll who lives in many homes from Thanksgiving to Christmas, changing locations in the house daily as it “flies back and forth to the North Pole every night” to give a report to Santa about who is naughty or nice. This clearly was an ingenious if not shameless invention of parents to help them keep their kids on good behavior until Christmas. But hey, whatever works….

FAQs for Santa:
Where are your reindeer? Typical Answer: they are resting up for Christmas Eve
How do your reindeers fly? Typical Answer: Santa’s reindeer only fly during one time of the year and they get their power from the Christmas spirit of all the people in the world
Where is your sleigh? Typical Answer: it is in the shop getting a fresh coat of red paint to be ready for the long trip on Christmas eve
Where is Mrs. Clause? Typical Answer: at the North Pole baking cookies and getting ready for Christmas
How many elves do you have to make your presents: Typical Answer: I have many elves at the North Pole but I have elves all over the world who help also make the toys and I pick up presents and toys from them on Christmas eve to refill my sleight to deliver to kids.
How do you get down the fireplace without getting burned? Typical Answer: Santa is very quick
Do you know the Easter bunny? Typical Answer: Of course, the bunny and I are close friends

A Few Funny Things Kids Have Said to Santa Over the Years:
One young boy jumped up on my lap started out the conversation by telling me his sister was right behind him and not to believe her if she tells me that he broke Mommy’s clock.
“This is the 3rd year I have asked you for a pony. I sure hope you can bring it this year.”
“Don’t bring me any more socks or underwear this year, I have enough. But you can bring more candy.”
“I have been a good girl most of the time. I only hit my brother every once in a while.”
“I saw you looking in the window the other day but I was being good at the time.”
(From a little boy whose mother was obviously expecting): “I want a baby brother, I already have two sisters and I’m kind of tired of them.”

A couple years ago I broke my lower leg and ankle in mid-November and thought my consecutive annual streak of playing Santa would be broken also. But when they asked what color I wanted to have for my cast in the orthopedic office I thought about it and told them I wanted a green cast with red sparkles. Four weeks later I was wheeled into a party of approximately 75 kids and their parents and the kids never noticed Santa’s leg. I had my grandson with me at the time — he was just a few months old, on one of his first visits with me, and dressed as an elf. That’s probably why they didn’t notice my leg; they were distracted by the cute elf. But I was prepared if any of them asked what happened to Santa’s leg — I would tell them one of the reindeer step on my foot but that I would be all healed and ready to go by Christmas eve.

I have really enjoyed the opportunity to play the jolly St. Nick every year for over three decades. I loved seeing the joy this gives all the children, parents and grandparent over the years. I admit that not all kids are excited or happy to see Santa. Between the ages of 1-3 years it is a flip of the coin whether Santa will hear sounds of laughter and joy or screams of terror. But all kids (and most adults) eventually come around to looking forward to seeing Santa each year.

Bottom line, I must admit that at least part of the reason I continue to don the red suit every year is a bit selfish. Watching the joy on kids’ faces and the excitement they have in anticipation of the “big day” allows me to relive a little of my childhood, albeit rather vicariously. It gives me a 100 cc injection of the Christmas spirit and the childhood I left behind. But I look forward to continuing this tradition for as long as I am physically able. I hope that is for many years to come.

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