Santa Claus was reading through a stack of letters written in bold with coloured markers when I met him at Gary’s Lock and Security Shop.
I managed to catch him during one of his mornings off in December. His jacket and belt were hung on a door at the back of the shop, and he wore a faded red collared shirt and velvet red hat, complete with a white pom-pom and trim.
“These are so sweet,” he said, as his droll little mouth drew up like a bow.
One of the letters read: “I want a cake, and two candy sticks. A tin cup and a penny. Some horses and a team.”
He chuckled. The beard on his chin was as white as the snow, although it didn’t always used to be.
“First of all, I started with a phony beard, then I started spraying it with white spray. Once I started growing a beard I just kept it all year long,” he said.
In the 70s, he grew up surrounded by a large family with lots of kids. On Christmas Eve, he would hand the presents out to everyone. When he first started growing out his beard as a young man it was dark, so he’d use spray to whiten his beard for the holiday season.
Santa is now 73-years-old, and doesn’t need to whiten his beard anymore. He has also grown in popularity over the years. As soon as the holiday parties start in December he’s one of the most sought after guests.
He rode in the parade at Winterfest, and had breakfast with all the kids in the community who came to see him. This past weekend, he visited with the children from Metlakatla, Helijet flew him around town to see the children waiting for him at the hanger, and then he is meeting with the city worker’s kids, the longshoremen and the list goes on.
Luckily, there are elves at each of these parties to wrap presents for him so he has something to give each of the children who sit on his knee.
I asked him what the strangest thing someone has asked Santa for.
“They ask for anything from dogs, to pianos, to cats. There are some more serious ones though. One fellow asked me to make his grandpa better. He’s in the hospital, so it’s tough,” Santa said letting out a sigh.
“You don’t really answer, you just say, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’”
His own kids are all grown up and he has six grandkids. One year, they gave grandpa Santa a gift — a red vinyl photo album, with “Santa’s Memories” embossed on a gold plate. Inside, are all the newspaper clippings, photos and some special Christmas cards from over the years.
As Santa ages, he said his knees are starting to hurt. After the last party he had a bunch of kids sitting on his knee, telling him their Christmas wishes, and the next morning his said he was a tad achy.
But he will continue, for as long as he can. Being Santa has been a special part of his life. In the off-season, he runs Gary’s Lock and Security Shop on Second Avenue West.
“Santa has to have a job,” he said.
He chooses to stay in Prince Rupert for the moderate weather and the proximity to the North Pole.
“I don’t have to travel too far.”
With the chilly Arctic outflow, it seemed that the city might have had a rare white Christmas — that was before the rain returned on Saturday..
“I think I’ve only seen snow once or twice on Christmas Eve in my life,” he said.
All Santa is asking for this Christmas is for the kids in Prince Rupert to behave themselves, and to believe in him — and if they could leave out a plate of cookies and a bit of ale when he comes to visit their home on Dec. 24, he would be grateful.
After Christmas, he used to trim his beard down to one-quarter of an inch and fly off to Hawaii for a vacation. But he said the last time he shaved his beard right down no one recognized him, so he won’t be doing that this year.
For those still conjuring their Christmas wishes, Santa offers one piece of advice, the secret to achieving happiness is simple.
“It’s all in your heart what you believe. If you’re going to be cranky, then that’s what you’re going to be. Just try to be happy and get along with people. That’s what life is all about.”