Of all the high-profile people I’ve had the opportunity to interview, Santa Claus was just about the toughest “get” (next to the Dalai Lama).
First of all, he’s incredibly busy in the weeks leading up to Christmas. However, he consented to give me an early interview if I would stop leaving multiple, corny messages on his iPhone. I also promised that I’d get his message out to the more than 1,500 people that view my site monthly.
“1,500!” he barked. “Hell, HuffPo gets two to three million hits a day!”
“I know,” I said, “but my site reaches ethical people, Santa,GOOD people.”
He liked that.
Okay, so he comes to the door incognito. He’s got the white beard and belly, alright, but he’s sporting sunglasses, a Tommy Bahama shirt and shorts. (Frankly, he looks like someone soliciting something that I don’t want to buy.)
“Hey, Santa,” I say, “how are you?”
“Okay, you’ve got 30 minutes, I’m busy as hell,” he says as he sweeps into the room and climbs into an armchair by the fireplace. He looks around for something. “What, no milk and cookies?”
“I’ve got a nice hot bowl of porridge on the stove,” I tell him.
“You watch too many old movies, Jim. Forget it,” he says. “I just had some liver and onions.”
I clip a mic on him, hit the record button and begin. “So,” I say leaning in, “what kind of things are kids really asking for this year?”
He gives me the squint-eye. “Hell, you’re some kind of Mike Wallace, aren’t you?”
(Santa uses “hell” a lot, but it’s only around adults, never around kids, he says.)
He takes in a deep breath. “Let’s see… the usual stuff: Wii, X-Box, Super Mario Brothers, laptops, bikes, dolls, dollhouse. Hell, one girl asked for a two-story dollhouse that she and her friend could have built in her backyard. I could see the parents out of the corner of my eye shaking their heads when they heard that.
“I had one kid who looked pretty depressed. His parents were there and they’re taking pictures, asking him to sit on Santa’s lap. He wasn’t too thrilled about that.
“So, I asked him, what are you depressed about?”
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘my family doesn’t believe in Christmas. I don’t get any gifts.’
“I smiled. Well, if you wanted a gift, what would it be like? Slowly, he began to talk. I listened for about three minutes as he described in detail all the things he’d like to get. We both laughed because he was having such a great time.
“When he finished, I just smiled at him. He smiled back, but it quickly disappeared as he got up to leave. He looked back and said, ‘I wish I believed in Santa Claus.’
“That must’ve been tough to hear,” I said.
“It was, but not as tough as the prisoners I spoke to. I visited this jail recently. I was required to dress in street clothes. The guards won’t let Santa wear his usual outfit, but they all recognized me. You guys been good? I ask them. Now, most of ‘em wouldn’t talk to me, but several handed me notes.
“What did the notes say?”
“They asked for things. One wanted enough money to pay off his lawyer. Another wanted money for child support… a car, a good attorney, a different wife.”
“Did you say LIFE or WIFE?”
“Both. A lot of them are in there because of alcohol and drugs. So, I’d tell them a little about myself and the time I spent in jail and they started to listen. They couldn’t believe that Santa had been in the ‘joint.’
“What were they looking for?” I asked.
“They were looking for help. They were looking for God to forgive them. And I said, well, it doesn’t work that way. First, you’ve got to forgive your brother. You’ve got to forgive the others that harmed you if you want forgiveness for yourself.
“If you don’t forgive others, I told them, you’re going to come right back here. If you don’t get yourself together, you’re kids are going to end up in here next to you, because they’ll do whatever you do.
“I told them that it’s only through the grace of God and forgiving others that I turned my life around. If you want God to help you, you’ve got to be willing to step out in faith and trust him and he’ll help you.
“One of them came up to me. ‘Will you pray for me, Santa,’ he asked. ‘Will you pray for my kids, too?’
“I said I would.”
He sat quiet after that. Our time was just about up. “Any final words?” I asked.
“Care a little more about your neighbor and forgive your brother,” he said.
Then I asked, “Is there anything Santa would like for Christmas?”
“Yes,” he said without hesitation, “no more Santa movies. I’m sick of ‘em.”