SANTA BOOKS AN EARLY APPEARANCE
It's red-and-white Friday at Alibi
“You stink! You smell like beef and cheese, you don’t smell like Santa.”
Fans of the holiday film staple “Elf” might recognize the line by Will Farrell’s Buddy. What should Santa Claus smell like? Nothing distracting, for sure. Not beef and cheese, not cigarette smoke, and surely not whiskey.
Kyle Green knows. He’s played St. Nick for 39 years from Macy’s at Union Square in San Francisco to private parties, to community parades. The long-time Vallejoan slipped into the iconic costume for this first time this season the day after Thanksgiving, delighting a handful of children accompanying parents at Alibi Bookshop downtown.
Thanksgiving “is definitely a start” to the Christmas season, “though some of my ‘helpers’ started as early as Halloween,” grinned Green behind the shiny white beard.
Green was a mere 18 “and 160 pounds including pillow” when a friend who did Santa appearances couldn’t make an assignment and asked Green to fill in. The job ended in a hot air balloon.
“That sealed the deal,” said Green. And he’s done Claus every holiday season since.
It’s not easy, as the suit that becomes a furry sauna. And kids that aren’t always pleasant. And parents who are sometimes even less pleasant.
But Green keeps coming back. “You have to love children to be in this business,” Green said. “Kids can tell. They know if you’re a phony-baloney.”
Sure, said Green, there was a learning curve when he began. He was, after all, a mere 18.
“The research happened over the years. I would talk to
other Santas,” Green said. “I would see a lot of them. They’re pretty easy to spot.”
Though these ambassadors for the North Pole Santa are mostly friendly, many with authentic beards “seem to have a chip on their shoulder. They think they’re superior,” Green said.
Beard or not, it’s a physically challenging job, he said.
“Imagine working in a warehouse, lifting 50-pound boxes while sitting down. That’s what it’s like being Santa Claus,” Green said. Yet, “I’ve never dropped a kid in 39 years.”
There is a bit of sleigh rust to kick off for that first public appearance after the layoff, Green said.
“You kind of remember how uncomfortable it (the suit) can be,” Green said. “Today’s weather is perfect and I’m by the door. There have been times when I’ve been in hotels without air conditioning and it’s not comfortable after a few hours.”
While Santa conducted an interview Friday between kid visits, Sarah Cain — “Mrs. Claus” — wandered around the bookstore.
“He’s a really good Santa and takes it really seriously,” Cain said. “He wants to make sure he portrays Santa in the best light and that kids have a great experience.”
One young parent, Mary Aller, appreciated Santa’s early-season appearance, though her 18-month-old daughter, Della Mora, wasn’t as accommodating as her first Santa experience a year ago.
“The first time was great because she was only 6 months old. She was fine. But this time, yeah, it wasn’t going to happen. It takes her awhile to get used to people. I wish I was more prepared and had her dressed up,” Aller said, though happy herself to see Claus.
“It’s an exciting time,” when the jolly man appears, Aller said.
Though Green typically has a handful of Vallejo appearances as Claus, the Alibi Bookstore assignment was his only scheduled one so far in town. A handful of previous standard holiday gigs evaporated because the businesses closed.
“He has to do some traveling this year. That’s what the sleigh is for,” smiled Cain.
Wherever Green appears, he never promises the kid anything — one of Santa’s No. 1 rules.
“I’ll say, ‘I’ll do my best.’ You have the parent right there. If I promise the child that bicycle, I’ll get a dirty look,” Green said.
Never in 39 years has a child relieved him or herself on Santa’s lap, Green said, answering a question that wasn’t asked.
“That’s never happened, though there’s screaming all the time. I saved the photos of screaming kids jumping off my lap,” he said.
There is a bit of a paradox in greeting the famed chubby man who squeezes through chimneys. .
“Kids are taught to not go anywhere near strangers, but then you’ve got the day they’ve got to sit on Santa’s lap and they’re not prepared for that,” Green said. “Some parents take a screaming kid and throw them on Santa’s lap and that’s not cool.”
Tots under 1 “are unaware of what’s going on” and kids 1 through 4 “are aware of what’s going on and Santa’s a weird thing for them,” Green said.
When kids hit 6 to 8, they become the doubters about this whole Santa thing.
“I say ‘Doubt all you want. That might affect what you get for Christmas,’” Green said.
Santa does have to keep up with the hot toy of the year; “what’s new and hip so I can have a conversation
with the kids,” said Green, lamenting the Teddy Ruxpin and Tickle Me Emo era when Santa himself would have trouble snagging one of those precious items.
Again, it’s all about respecting the real stars, Green said.
“I never talk down to a child. I don’t do it in any form. And I don’t talk loudly to a child,” he said. “I try to give them eye contact throughout the visit and try and get the parents involved.”
Green said he can usually identify a spoiled kid
— “I’ve had 5-year-olds ask for the latest iPhone” — but can also understand a child’s challenge.
“One child … 10 years old … said to me, ‘I hope you can stop the bombings in India,’” recalled Greene. “I didn’t know what to say.”
Whether the expected or unexpected, Green said 40 years as Santa has been rewarding and he hoped he could do another 30.
“I’m very happy Santa,” he said.
Seven-month-old Sutton Ward sits on Santa’s lap during a visit to the Alibi Bookshop in downtown Vallejo on the day after Thanksgiving in Vallejo on Friday.