HAT: The most iconic symbol of Santa.
“Sometimes kids bring me a list of things they want, and I'll put it in my hat. When I take off my hat, I always have other kids’ lists stored in there, too. As far as I'm concerned, it's part of my dress."
GLASSES: “I put Rainex on my glasses so they don't fog up.”
"I rouge up my cheeks for extra cheer, and put white makeup on my eyebrows since they're naturally dark."
WHITE BEARD: “I learned early on that little kids will yank your beard. Since I only don the beard at Christmas time, I use spirit gum so it stays on my face and it won't come off at all. Extra bonus? A real 'ouch!' if it gets yanked."
GLOVES: "These are part of my firefighter formal wear. I cut holes in the forefinger and thumb so I can text."
BAG WITH JINGLE BELLS: “I make sure I have a bag to put goodies in. I'll buy a lot of little miniature toys of whatever is popular—this year it's definitely Star Wars—and I'll have one to give kids when they ask. And they're happy with that.”
“I bought the fabric and took it to a costume shop and they custom-made it for me.”
RED SHIRT: Underneath the coat to stay warm without mismatching.
PADDED VEST: Santa lost weight recently and now he has to pad his belly. “It's a red vest filled with cotton."
BELT: "No Santa is complete without his belt."
“Dry clean only," especially after a couple hundred children sit on your lap.
"Instead of full boots, I wear boot covers over my fireman marching shoes so my feet stay comfortable while jumping on and off the firetruck during our spin through the neighborhood."
"Nobody sees them, but it's a detail that keeps me in the Santa spirit."
Wondering what to get for the children in your life for Christmas this year? A safe bet is something Star Wars-related. We should know; we asked Santa. Well, we actually asked one of Santa’s helpers, a firefighter who dons that iconic red suit each holiday season to spread joy and Christmas cheer.
Starting the day after Thanksgiving, this Santa gets the Christmas songs going to get into the mindset. He has been getting into character for about 25 years, first dressing up as Santa for the local fire department. Every year he and the crew—all dressed up as reindeer, elves and clowns—would drive a fire truck around the neighborhood, passing out toys and candy to local kids. The last stop would be the firehouse Christmas party, where Santa would dole out big gifts to the firefighters' children. Every present was something directly off each kid's Christmas list, making the party extra magical. "And there was the time Santa had to drive the truck to a fire call," because emergency workers are always on the clock no matter the holiday.
“Only Santa can be Santa,” this helper is quick to remind me, but “I have a direct line to the North Pole.” Now, he takes that direct line to a variety of contexts in addition to the local community. He is Santa at the local shopping mall and Santa at the Ronald McDonald House, and knows how to tweak his Santa attitude accordingly. The best part of being Santa is the ability to provide a brief respite from the day-to-day, he says, especially for children and families in stressful situations. At the Ronald McDonald House, an organization that provides housing for families who have seriously ill or injured children in the hospital, he is Santa for the kids residing at the House while their siblings are being treated. “Kids at the Ronald McDonald House, most importantly, want their sisters and brothers to get better, but they still want toys," he explains. "It's nice to see them smile.”
There is a magic that comes from playing Santa. It’s freeing to don the suit, and the character never breaks: “I call everyone 'little boy' or 'little girl,' even parents. I’m Santa, I don’t have to care!” One of his proudest moments is when he can successfully extend the life of Christmas spirit just a little longer. “One year I saw my daughter’s friend and I jumped off the fire truck to talk to her, asking her a lot of stuff that only Santa would know, like ‘How's your swimming?’. She was about eight, just that age where she was starting to question Santa. Her mom called me later and said, "You bought me one more Christmas." That was really nice to hear.”
Despite the proliferation of photos of children screaming on Santa's lap, this is actually a rare occurrence. If that does happen, he makes sure that the parent is right next to him, or even have the parent sit on his knee along with the kid. And no one has ever thrown up on him. “I've been real fortunate. Santa hates throw up, and I don't want to know what would happen to the suit, either!”