This and every Christmas season the most important person is the baby Jesus, with a bearded, white-haired toy factory owner coming in a close second. Every year we flock to the malls to sit in our kids down on Santa's lap. Sometimes they run off screaming, while others take to the old guy just like they would an elderly relative.
Santa Claus Roundup:
The Galleria -- December 8, 2008, 7pm
I'm standing next to Santa Claus and I don't know what to say. His red cheeks and flowing beard are overpowering me. I stammer. Do I call him "sir"; do I call him "Mr. Claus"?
It's a Monday night at the Galleria. The crowd is thin, but just as hurried as any other day or night. Parents are lugging around bags full from the Apple store. Young couples peer inside Tiffany's. I am talking to a man I have known for almost twenty-five years, yet still can't utter a cognitive sentence. Great, I'm pushing thirty and I'm just now getting around to being afraid of Santa.
"Let's take a deep breath, big guy," Santa intones me. Sure thing, Mr. Claus.
The Galleria's Santa team, Santa Gerald and Mrs. Santa Gerald, have been performing as the holiday couple for the past years. The Florida couple has been married for forty-one years, raising a family that includes a career marine. Santa was a military man himself, and Mrs. Claus was a teacher.
This whole adventure started years back when the Mrs. recruited the Mr. for a Pioneer Days function in their hometown. A beard would be in order, and it just so happens that his came in almost snow-white. A friend recommended Gerald to a talent agency, and here they are. They tool around in their RV the rest of the year, seeing the country.
This year, the couple was originally booked for a mall near Long Island, but a change in plans sent them down to Houston for their first tour of duty here.
"I was all set to tour New England, all those cute places, but here we are", Mrs. Claus tells me in between customers, some still teary-eyed from the experience.
The hour I spend talking to the couple, Santa has two sets of twins and even a group of middle-aged ladies come through to have their picture taken with him. Santa Gerald's oldest guest ever was a ninety-four year-old woman who visited for a good five years or so until she just stopped coming one Christmas. The pictures were for her kids.
Santa tells me the most interesting request he's gotten this year was from a six-year old. The little boy told him plainly that he wanted a dumptruck. Easy enough, what little boy wouldn't want a manly dumptruck?
The fact that the little guy also wanted a piano was stranger. Why those two things, Santa asked him. The child replied that he needed the truck to haul the piano. That makes sense when you are six.
As I leave, I shake Santa's warm, white-glove hand.
"We forgot to do something, you know," Santa says right before I walk off.
"Oh yeah. I guess I should tell you. I want a more powerful lens for my camera right here," I explain to the big guy.
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Without a beat he replies "Have you been good this year, Craig?" I look around sheepishly and we both laugh.
"I drink a lot, sir," I finally admit with a chuckle.
"Ah, don't worry about it. I'll see what I can do," he answers with a warm smile.
-- Craig Hlavaty