“Am I on the nice list or the naughty list?” I asked.

Dressed in red garments with a snowy white beard wrapped tightly around the lower part of his face and a pair of glasses sitting snuggly on the rim of his nose, Santa Claus threw back his head and let out a hearty laugh.

He then proceeded to tell me that the only way he could feel the “vibes” as to whether I was naughty or nice was if I sat on his lap.

And that’s exactly how I ended up here in this picture.

“Oh, he’s a fine one,” said he said as his whiskers tickled my cheeks, and I sat there, smiling awkwardly and waiting for the camera to take the photo.

When asked why Mrs. Claus was not with him, Claus said she was busy at the North Pole (where he lives) with the elves and reindeer, making preparations for the big day. However, Claus made a note to squash a misconception that many people believe: he does not spend 364 days of the year at the North Pole, only to leave it once a year on Christmas Eve. Or at least he has not for the last 33 years.

Starting the day after Halloween, the 586-year old Claus leaves his workshop and hits the mall where he sits on a chair in the center of the building, seating children on his lap and asking them what they want for Christmas. He has worked in many malls and convenience stores, starting with JC Penny in 1979 and has worked at the Smith Haven Mall for the last 11 years.

“I have a fan base here,” he said. “It scares me someday not to be back. The delight of children and parents are what bring me back.”

Claus first came to the mall in 2002, hoping to make a difference and bring happiness to children whose families were impacted by the events of Sept. 11. Through his time here, he has met children with disabilities, who have lost loved ones and who have had parents walk out on their families.

He said that the most stressful part of his job is when a child asks him to bring back a dead loved one, but that his job gives him the chance to help them in any way he can, whether it means hearing their Christmas list or coming to their house with a bag full of presents. He has even stopped at homes for Thanksgiving dinner.

“The best gift was making someone happy if they lost their mom and daddy,” said Claus. “And I’ve been asked that many times.”

Claus said he loves seeing the joy he can give to a child or parent by helping in any way he can, especially when he can see it on their faces. He says that it makes his job as Santa Claus a worthwhile gift.

“The rewarding assets are the smiles on children’s faces,” he said, “the facial expressions they give you. “Not just the children, but the parents as well. You know when you’ve done something good, what other good you can leave.”

While some requests are emotional and difficult, others are strange, but funny. Claus loves these requests though, and tries to be as specific as possible with all his gifts. “One time, I had a child ask me for a giraffe, a real giraffe,” he said. “And I asked what color it was.”

When not working at the mall, Claus is busy at his workshop, monitoring the progress of his elves and getting his reindeer in shape for takeoff on Christmas Eve when they fly at the speed of light around the world, so he can deliver presents to good boys and girls.

Claus’s advice to all children who want to stay off the naughty list: listen. Do what they are told and do not disobey their parents.

“I stress the listening part,” he said.

“Of course, now, we use the Elf on Shelf,” he added in reference to a toy that parents use to remind children to be respectful, or Claus will not come.

Another useful piece of information to know: Claus is a choco-man and said chocolate chip cookies are his favorite snack, with a cold glass of whole milk to wash them down. “Santa likes the fattening stuff.”

Claus said his job working as a mall Santa is important not only because it offers him the opportunity to make a child happy, but because it also gives him the chance to stress the importance of being a mall Santa Claus.

“It’s important to get the word out that Santa Clauses (wink, wink) serve the public,” he said. “Any which way. We have a heart.”


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