Well, Santa, to start, can you tell me who you really are?
That is hard to tell. After all these years and so many tales about me, legend now surrounds my person. Let me see. My real name is Nicholas, bishop of the seaport town of Myria in Asia Minor.
Asia Minor? You Mean Turkey?
That’s the modern-day name of my old hometown. But it was called Asia Minor then in 300 AD when I was still bishop.
How old are you, Santa?
Well, I’ve lost count of my age. If you’ve lived as long as I have, you would never know your age, too. My educated guess is I am about 1,700 years old.
If your name is Nicholas, how come you are called Santa Claus?
Actually, I was popularly known in Europe as Saint Nicholas. In fact, I was so popular among Eastern Christians that Russia and Greece chose me as their patron saint and celebrated my feast day on December 6. The Dutch colonists kept the December 6 festival when they settled in New Amsterdam…
Excuse me, Santa, but by New Amsterdam you mean New York, don’t you?
I keep forgetting that names have changed over the years. You’re right. The Dutch settled in New York and brought along with them the December 6 feast day, which they celebrated with festive sports and gifts for children. The Dutch called me Sinterklaas, meaning Saint Nicholas. So when my festivities spread in America, the Americans began calling me Santa Claus.
How did you get to be known for your gift giving to children?
Oh, I guess it all started when as a bishop I gave three bags of gold to three daughters of an impoverished merchant as dowry for marriage to save them from shame and slavery. One of the bags of gold I tossed through the window one night happened to fall into a stocking hung by the chimney to dry. That started the custom of children hanging Christmas stockings by the chimneys in the hope of receiving gifts from me.
You are wearing one of the most colorful costumes of all folk heroes? Who is your couturier?
Ho, ho, ho. I don’t have any. My appearance and outfit were suggested by Clement Moore in his poem “Twas the Night before Christmas” written in 1822. Moore, a theology professor of Columbia College and a poet became famous with this one poem. He wrote that I had clothes of fur, twinkling eyes, merry dimples, cheeks like roses, nose like a cherry, beard as white as snow and round belly that shook like a bowlful of jelly when I laugh. He added that I had a reindeer-drawn sleigh and even gave them names.
Ho, ho, ho. The guy’s very imaginative. Anyway, I liked his ideas so I appropriated it.
But being a bishop, aren’t you supposed to wear a religious robe instead of the red cap and suit trimmed with white fur that you are wearing now?
As bishop, I used to appear in colorful medieval regalia, complete with a miter and cape. But as I said, when the Dutch settlers introduced me to America, I changed my get-up because of Moore’s concept of me. By the way, my modern image—that of being jolly, plump and wearing an elf-like cap—is based on the cartoons drawn by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1881. Like Moore, he too got famous by building up my image.
You are observed to be busy during the Yuletide season. What do you do during the rest of the year?
I make a list of who’s naughty or nice. Since there are millions of children the world over, my list making keeps me occupied most of the year. This used to be a tedious and complicated process, but the advent of computers makes the listing a lot easier now.
Aside from list making, I also supervise the gnomes in my toy factory to make sure my gifts are ready when the Yuletide season starts. Of course, I have to take care of my reindeer too—Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitzen and, the most famous reindeer of all, Rudolph. I make sure they are well fed and in good health for the big jobs during Christmas Eve.
Who is financing your gift giving?
The IMF and the World Bank. Ho, ho, ho. Just kidding. Actually, I’m quite a rich man. I’m a stockholder of most of the big companies in the world. So to answer your question, I finance my own gift giving.
Where can a child reach you to ask a Christmas gift?
I can’t tell you where exactly I live. That’s confidential. Otherwise, I would get all kinds of visitors and curiosity seekers the whole year round dropping by for a chat, and I wouldn’t have time to do my job anymore. Anyway, a child can address his letter to the Arctic Circle in Finland. Provided the handwriting is legible, I’ll get it.
What’s your secret for long life?
Beg your pardon?
Not dying. Meaning, going on living.
Balanced diet and good exercise.
What is your exercise regimen?
Laughter. Lots of ’em. Make sure you laugh at least two minutes every hour. Ho, ho, ho.
Do you have a wife?
You must be kidding me. I’m a bishop, remember?
One last question. Are you real or just a figment of our imagination?
Depends. If you believe in Christmas, in peace and love, in charity and generosity, in the babe in the manger, then I’m as real as your neighbor is.