The directions for Santa’s house are simple enough.
“When you leave the highway, turn right at the stop sign and drive 8 kilometres till you see the red mailbox.”
Red mailbox. Of course. The lane heads up and there is Santa’s house, a sprawling country home nestled against the woods. There are no reindeer in the yard or an elf welcome party; only Santa himself, wearing his trademark red hat with the white trim, blue jeans and a red windbreaker, hanging another garland on his front porch. I follow him into the house, passing under a sign that reads “We Believe In Santa”, and before you can say naughty or nice, we are seated at the kitchen table, drinking coffee out of red and green mugs.
My first question to Santa is the obvious one: What changes has he seen in the last ten years?
“Kids’ requests for expensive electronic gear are right off the scale,” he answers. “Every now and then you’ll get a little girl who wants a Barbie doll or little guy who wants a pair of skates or a hockey stick but very seldom do you hit that. I feel sorry for some of the parents. Some of the cheapest stuff the kids ask for is $250. Some small, young family starting out, they’ll have $250 for the whole family for Christmas. And trying to do Christmas dinner, too. The kids have no idea about reality.”
Santa takes a sip of his coffee then rubs a hand across his face before continuing.
“Sometimes you get the tear-jerkers as well, like a little girl who asks for her mother to come home for Christmas. It’s the same as a child asking for an unmeltable ice cream. I tell her that I’ll do the best I can. I always do the best I can.”
Santa smiles at me and it hits me: This is the real deal. Crinkly white beard? Check. Twinkle in the eyes? Check. Dimples and rosy cheeks? Check. The big stomach (which Santa carries very well, I assure you)? Check. I’m having a conversation with Santa Claus, who has remembered another story he wants to share.
“I remember one little guy who had a bad cold,” says Santa, “and I said, ‘You’re not feeling very good,’ and he said no. I asked him if he’d had a candy cane today and he said no. I happened to have one so I said to him, ‘I have to tell you something. Candy canes will cure almost anything. As a matter of fact, one of the reindeer wasn’t feeling well this morning and I knew that because he was walking on the ceiling in the barn. I have to get him down to get him to take his medicine but I’m in luck because his medicine is a candy cane so I hold it up and he grabs onto it and I pull him down. He ate his candy cane and I think he’s feeling better’.”
Santa chuckles at the memory and rests his arms on his stomach. He confirms that the Santas at the malls are simply helpers because at this time of year, Santa is busy with the parades and office parties and private visits that allow him to really make magic happen. He doesn’t charge a fee for these public appearances but he accepts donations because Santa has a cause: “I find a family or two in need and help them out at Christmas.” Because sometimes Santa needs a little more than a twinkle in his eyes and a magic bag to make Christmas happen for some people.
Speaking of that bag, Santa reveals the secret as to how he can carry gifts to every child around the world on Christmas Eve.
“The elves makes one of each toy. When it goes into the bag, it duplicates. So I can reach my hand in over and over and always have enough.”
And if there isn’t a chimney? He chuckles again. It’s a lovely sound, deeper and more relaxed than his trademark ho-ho-ho.
“I make one,” he says. “I wish the chimney.” Which comes with a hearth and fire, by the way.
Santa admits he has to be up on every Christmas movie ever made because the kids will ask him about them but his favourite movies are A Christmas Carol and Miracle on 34th Street because the message of those movies is important and timeless.
“Just for a little while, let your guard down,” he suggests. “Relax. Christmastime only lasts for a short while. Enjoy. You don’t have to have a million dollars. Just enjoy the season.”
My hour is up and Santa offers me the use of his facilities. Here is the final secret to reveal: Santa has a gorgeous bathroom, and I’ll bet my last candy cane he spends Christmas Day soaking in the whirlpool tub.
“When you sit down to write your story,” Santa Claus says to me as I pull on my coat, “remember to have a mug of hot chocolate.”
I thank him again for taking time out of his busy schedule for this conversation and we shake hands. As I walk to my car, I slip my hand into a pocket for my keys and find a business card in my palm. It’s Santa’s card and all it says is I’m watching. Turning to look back at the house, I see Santa at the window, one finger resting aside his nose.