Yes, you know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, and you probably believe you also know Santa. For sure, you know the basics: red suit, white beard, bags full of toys made by elves – but, there is still plenty to learn about St. Nick. For instance, you might not know that Santa loves music, especially Christmas music. We had a feeling he did, but just to be sure we met with him this week at two area malls to see if Santa really does love to rock around the Christmas tree.
“My favorite is ‘The Christmas Song,’ sung by Nat King Cole," our first Santa said as we visited him one morning at Willowbrook Mall. "To me, it just evokes the holiday itself. All the elements are combined in there – chestnuts roasting, turkey, the children hoping to see if reindeer really fly. That’s my absolute favorite."
You kids may never have heard of Nat King Cole. He was a popular singer way back in the mid-1900s and his voice was warm as a fireplace on a cold winter night. If you’ve never heard of him, maybe you know Justin Bieber, Usher, Daffy Duck, Demi Lovato or – if you’re a really cool kid – James Brown. All of them have sung “The Christmas Song,” too. But we agree with Santa: no one has ever it like Nat King Cole. Santa said he also enjoys the music jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi composed for A Charlie Brown Christmas. Hopefully you know that TV special; if not, we may have to ask Santa to put some coal in your parents’ stockings.
“I play several instruments and I sing,” said Santa, to our surprise. He showed us a book he wrote called Santa’s Wish, which includes a CD with an original song he wrote. You can get a copy if you visit him at Willowbrook Mall.
“Three years ago here, I was sitting in this chair, it was the beginning of the season and it was slow at first, there were not a lot of children to visit with yet, and I let my mind wander. Well, in wandered a Christmas song idea. It’s about Christmas from Santa’s perspective.”
Santa loves visitors at the mall. On Monday night, families can bring pets to visit him at Willowbrook. There's even a link to the mall's Web site for parents to reserve your visit with Santa. He sure has seen a lot over the years. Not just whether you’re sleeping or awake or if you’ve been good, for goodness sake, but other neat stuff.
“One year, I had a man come to me who wanted to propose to his girlfriend and asked if I would hold the diamond ring that he was going to give her when he came back with her that night to visit," he told us. "I would hand it to him so she could be proposed to in front of Santa, for the whole world to see.”
Santa said he gets lots of grown-up visitors. Some years ago, a woman began bringing her mother to see him at Willowbrook Mall. The lady’s mother was in her nineties, and has already stopped by to see Santa this year. He’s happy to say she is now 103 years old, proving one is never too old to believe in Santa Claus. He asked if I could guess how old his youngest visitor has been. I put on my thinking cap and blurted out “Three days old!” and Santa said I was exactly right and then gave me a high-five. If you’ve never gotten a high-five from Santa Claus, it feels exactly the same as opening a special gift on Christmas morning.
We left Santa alone for a while, but we caught up with him later at Memorial City Mall. In the hours between our visits, he came up with a few more of his favorite songs. Maybe he listened to Sunny 99.1 on his way to the mall.
“Christmas carols from around the world,” he said, in his best ho-ho-ho voice. “They are the ones that lift your souls, they bring smiles to your faces, they fill you with joyous rapture.”
He said he also enjoys, “Mary, Did You Know?” because “that expresses the whole Christmas story altogether.” He said all of you can follow his lead by giving a simple present to others, one that doesn't cost much at all.
“What I like to ask the children to do is to remember that this is a season of giving and one thing they can always do is they can always give smiles," Santa said. "I ask them to let all the love that’s in their hearts rise to their faces everyday so when they awake they have a smile on their face and then give that smile to those that they love. And soon, that love then is spread to their folks and their folks take it to work with them and soon we have love around the whole world and smiles that start with just one.”
Of all the many Christmas songs he could have called his favorite, Santa never named one that was about him. Not "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," or "Here Comes Santa Claus," or even "Santa Baby." That should tell you a little about him. Even though he’s one of the world’s biggest rock stars, he’s still very humble. A lot of people — especially that guy with the funny hair — could learn something from Santa’s example.
Santa said whichever your favorite Christmas song is – even if it’s about him – you should enjoy it and share it with others.
“Christmas music, I know a lot of people say, ‘I can’t wait for it to be over, I’m tired of it,'" he says. "But, I know a lot of people who start playing Christmas music in October, just to build up excitement. They love it. It’s become such a part of the holiday itself. I mean, without Christmas music, it would be kind of bland, wouldn’t it?”
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.