I PHONED Santa Claus the other day. We talked for nearly an hour. I know it was Santa. After all, he has a website, a hiring agency, a university, and he’s president of The Kringle Group, LLC. He’s even trademarked the name National Santa.
National Santa was babysitting when I talked to him at his home in Amity Harbor, an hour east of New York City. When he answered an e-mail, he closed with the message, “With a twinkle in the eye, I remain yours Santacerely.’’
I’m not getting on the naughty list of this guy.
Tim Connaghan has been Santa for 50 years, and a full-time Santa for 30. And in case you missed him, Santa has lived among us. He resided in Pasadena and Sierra Madre from 1975-1987.
The National Santa certainly looks the part. He wears a full white beard and weighs 225 pounds.
“I’m Santa 24/7, 365 days a year. It doesn’t matter where I go or what I’m wearing,’’ Connaghan said. “If I don’t make strong eye contact, I might get by, but if I look people in the eye and let’s say I wear a red shirt, well …’’
A full white beard has become a permanent part of his persona. Connaghan said he hasn’t trimmed it in 20 years.
“Most commercial places and malls want Santas with real beards because kids are so smart,’’ he said. “Kids in the first grade can tell if you have a theatrical beard. Their parents — they want the magic to continue.’’
But there is more to being a Santa than just having a beard. Connaghan holds two-day training sessions around the country for $250. He said that over 4,200 have graduated from his School4Santas, and many others have read his book, “Behind the Red Suit, the Business of Santa.’’
Connaghan also produced the world’s largest Santa convention; owns a Santa booking agency and produces annual surveys that examine everything from how many Santas have their beards pulled (88 percent) to how many are sneezed or coughed on up to 15 times a day (44 percent).
I asked National Santa if he could recall any particularly poignant or emotional moments while wearing the red suit. Connaghan said that, early in his career, he was with a group of children who had been given $100 to buy things at a department store.
He asked one boy what he would be buying and he said slippers and dish towels for his mom … and “toilet paper.’’ Connaghan asked, why toilet paper? “Because my mom has to go into McDonald’s and get toilet paper,’’ the boy said. “And she gets ketchup for soup.’’
Another time, he went to the memory section of an assisted-living facility. He came into a room where a woman in her 90s was in bed surrounded by her son and his wife. “Santee,” she said. Everyone started crying. “It’s the first time she has said anything for six years,’’ her son explained. “I started crying, too,” Connaghan said.
“Locked somewhere was a spot of memory of Santa Claus. Everything we do, we do for children, even if that child is 90 years old.
“Sometimes children will ask for things like to help bring mommy and daddy together after a divorce, or to help a sister get over cancer,’’ he said. “You have to say that you can’t promise but you understand and hope things get better and they are loved.’’
Connaghan started appearing as Santa in 1969 while serving in the Army in Vietnam. He later spent nearly a decade as a news director and personality at small California radio stations.
While he lived in Pasadena and Sierra Madre, he worked for 25 years as a fund raiser for City of Hope, the March of Dimes and the Cancer Society.
Connaghan is the main event when he appears yearly as Santa in the Hollywood Christmas Parade and for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. He’s also appeared in commercials and advertising for Coca-Cola, Oreos, Amazon, Hershey’s, Macy’s and Planter’s Peanuts. He’s already got more than 60 events to go to between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But there comes a time when Connaghan knows that even Santa Claus will have to hang up that red suit for good.
“This can be depressing for some Santas,’’ he said. “That is when I decided to create the position or status of “Santa Emeritus.’’
“He can easily say, ‘My brother Fred is now taking care of everything at the North Pole. And then Santa can add the good part. He can explain to the children that his brother still needs help and has asked this retired Santa to continue to check on who is naughty and who is nice. Then, the old Santa can ask the children and even the adults, “Which list are you on?’’
My email is ALippman@gavilanmedia.com. Please write if you have any story ideas about people, places or things of interest to South Pasadena residents.