PLAYING SANTA CLAUSE
For the past five years, Austin Warner has conducted a "Santa school".
It covers the history and legend behind St. Nick, procedure and make-up tips,
before going solo.
WARNER: We have to be close to sainthood which is very hard you know, because
we're only human. And it's very important that we're very cherry, ho ho ho. And
what you have to understand is: that kid who's been standing in line for maybe
an hour or two, has only got a minute and a half or two minutes to tell you what
he wants. And you really only have the first 30 seconds to really create a good impression.
Warner says television advertising has pushed many kids into
greedier attitudes, through their requests and letters to Santa.
WARNER: Oh yeah, real long letters. I had one Sunday.. it probably would have taken
me three and a half hours to read.
Gone are the questions about the reindeer and Mrs. Clause, replaced these days
with toy manufacturer names and catalog pages to make sure Santa gets it right.
Although Christmas has been overtaken by computers, the doll and bike requests
still rank right up there. And Austin sees evidence of a return to the true
values of the holidays.
WARNER: What's happening is now I can see a lot the parents are telling them,
hey, ask for just a couple of things.. Santa is basically a symbol of Christmas,
but not the true meaning of Christmas. The true meaning is Jesus' birthday. And
you know, when you go out and buy all of those gifts, then the younger ones go
into the cupboard and pick up the pots and pans and play with them instead. And
then, you're totally devastated. And so is your wallet, ho ho ho.
Warner believes his Santa's may be better prepared and more believable than
those just winging it, which can be critical when dealing with a child's faith
in make believe. Warner's experience tells him who is ready for the big time.
WARNER: Everybody gets nervous when they first do it. But one thing you have to
keep in mind: the child is just as nervous as you are. And that child doesn't know
if you're doing it right or not. As long as you do it with great spirit and warmth
and sincerity, you're a hero. And you gotta enjoy it. These guys are playing Santa
because they want to, not because they have to.
Some of the drawbacks of the job are the mental fatigue and the pressure to
be happy and stay in character for the entire shift… to never let down from
that constant cheerful output.
WARNER: To be on top. Because if you're not, there might be that one kid who might
try to snatch your beard off. They won't come off, ho ho ho. Your face will be torn
off before the beard will. But it's very, very important that you're constantly
thinking of it.
The joy of the job is of course, the kids.
WARNER: So I said, "I heard you've been fighting with your brother." And he says:
"Oh yes," but he says "When I hit him, I only hit him very softly!" So, now that was
like a politician. I thought that was pretty good.
It's a magical trip, playing Santa, says Warner- but also a humbling experience.
WARNER: Then you have the kids asking my "grandma back" or "grandpa back", or "I'd
like my eyesight back." Many kids coming up are handicapped,
and you get a good knowledge that, you know, I don't have it so bad.
It's a great awareness.
Santa Clause, Austin Warner. Bill Flynn, WXXI 1370.
WARNER: (on the job) Merry Christmas to all, and may god bless you all, ho ho ho!…
And to all a good night! Ho, ho, ho! Make sure you leave me cookies and milk…