A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.
"People come up to me and say, 'You look like Santa!' I tell 'em, 'I feel like Santa.' I've had this beard for, I guess, 40 years. At this time of the year, it's very long. I do color a small portion of it. Every year I have to color less. I have to wax the mustache every day to keep it in shape. That's a little rough.
"I think I've done every type of Santa job possible. Today I was at a school. Tomorrow morning I do a museum. I did a nursing home last year. It's a spectrum of people there. Some people don't want anything to do with you, and you leave 'em alone. Other people are just happy to see anybody.
"I have a lot of kids who are so excited to see me, they're waving, and then when they get up to me, they're a little bit scared. I tell 'em, 'Santa never hurt anybody.' But a lot of times, if they're too scared, and the parents are pushing the kid to get a photo with Santa, no matter what they do, the kid's not gonna agree to this.
"I did, for a while, do the Christkindlmarket down at Daley Plaza, and that's pretty brutal. That's a good eight and a half hours with just constant people coming through. These poor people were lining up outside the Santa House in the cold for half an hour. We were averaging 1,800 a day.
"You have to be Santa full-time. I did a job last night at a hotel, a corporate party with adults. I left my street clothes with the manager, and after the party, the manager was somewhere in the hotel, so I had to wait half an hour in the lobby. People would come up to me and want to have pictures with Santa. I'm Santa. I can't be mad 'cause I'm still there. I have to smile and say, 'Yes, I'd love to have a picture taken!'
"My stomach's getting bigger, but I still use a fake stomach. It's actually a pad that straps in the back, and it just sits in front of you, sort of like a baseball catcher's pad. The suit's very hot, with the padding and everything. I do a school up in Waukegan every year, and we run through all the classrooms, and it's brutal, moving that quick.
"I get asked for the toys, the iPods, the computer games. A lot of times I'll get the five- or six-year-old kid whose parents have been telling 'em all year, 'No, we're not getting a dog,' and they go over the parent's head and ask Santa for a puppy. I tell 'em, 'I'm pretty good with toys, but puppies sometimes don't work because they sometimes fall out of the sleigh going over Canada.' I said that to an 18-year-old girl who asked, 'You stop and pick up the puppies, right?'
"No, I don't work on Christmas Day. I got a lot of offers this year, and last year I got a really nice offer from a very high-end hotel downtown. I could've picked my price—over $1,000 for four hours—but I just can't. Everybody comes to my house—my kids come, my grandkids come, my brother, my mother—so I have to be here."