Confessions of a mall Santa

Max Lucas, 70, was one of 30 would-be Santas who successfully applied for the role of the man in red this Christmas.
Catherine Watson

Max Lucas, 70, was one of 30 would-be Santas who successfully applied for the role of the man in red this Christmas.

They sat in a row. Some had bellies that shook like bowls full of jelly, but only a select few of the 30 hopefuls would successfully make it through the first round to become Santa and sit on the big red chair.

The situations vacant advertisement sought two "jolly, cheery, mature males".

At $20 an hour, the perks of the job seemed to many applicants like all of their Christmases had come at once — no KPIs to meet and all the lollies you can handle.

For 17 days, from 10am-4pm, you sit down on your very own throne, talk about the notion of potential gifts and hand out sweets.

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As the boss of the whole shebang, you will have three people reporting to you including "two real live elves;" and a photographer.

While Santa is an international man of mystery, these Christchurch Santa applicants were required to have a valid New Zealand work visa or residency and be vetted by the police.

Holly Baxter, who placed the advertisement for The Recruitment Network, says Santa was a popular role.

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"I had a total of 30 Santas apply for the two roles," Baxter says. "I had some very interesting people apply... One applied as first name 'Santa', last name 'Claus'. Address: 1 Pole Street, South pole, Antarctica. They said in their application that they expect $100 per hour to be a Santa. I also had a 19-year-old very young looking, slim, blonde male apply who couldn't understand why he didn't fit the criteria. Loved his enthusiasm."

Candidates did not have to supply their own beard, but did need their own shoes.

"We hire two beautiful deluxe suits from Malthouse Costumes," Baxter says. "They include pants, a jacket, white gloves, black belts, a beard and a hat. The Santas are required to wear a white top underneath the jacket, and black boots."

Although to some Santa might be seen as a management role, it was "not mandatory" for Santa to know the names of all of the reindeer reporting to them.

This may come as a surprise to Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.

Baxter says she was looking for a Santa who was "happy, cheerful, good with children and patient".

"We generally look for males that are a bit older, and are a bit heavier to look like a real Santa. This isn't crucial as we can supply a pillow to be stuffed in their jacket if needed."

Christchurch grandfather, Max Lucas, 70, was one of the successful candidates.

"I don't run the elves," he says. "They run me."

Lucas spends all day listening to what people want for Christmas, what does he want?

"Nothing. I have everything I need."

You can find him seated on his red throne at Eastgate Mall until Christmas. It's his second year as Santa there.

"It was a pretty straightforward interview," Lucas says. "Did I like kids? Was I fat? Did I have a beard? There were a lot of people lined up for it. I enjoy it. I love kids, I enjoy the exuberance and fancy the kids have. I only have them for three minutes, even better."

Lucas is still answering questions, but now they are from the many children he sees each day.

"Sometimes they ask funny questions, sometimes they don't say anything and just perch on my knee or else they scream their heads off," he says.

"They often want to know how I get to and from the mall every day. I told one child that I had an invisible reindeer called Darryl parked out the back. They often wonder about the different Santas in the malls and parades, they have spotted the difference in beards. I tell them that we have different beards that we put on each morning and when we get up we just grab the closest one."

One child asked Lucas why he was wearing brown shoes and not black boots.

"That is because I trod in some reindeer poo and Mrs Christmas is washing the black ones," Lucas explains.

Can't you wash your own shoes, Santa?

"Mrs Christmas does it because I'm always in such a rush."

While little girls this year often request toys from the movie, Frozen, and little boys want trucks, some children ask for more unusual items.

"A kid yesterday asked for something orange, one wanted some lollies, another one wanted a guinea pig called Caramel."

It's up to the parent whether their child sits on Santa's knee or next to him in a chair.

"I am conscious all the time of where my hands are so no-one can accuse me of anything," Lucas says. 

Adults, too, want to sit on his lap for "funny photos" or Santa selfies.

"The hardest part is lifting the obese children of today onto my knee," he says. "There are so many fat kids and their fat mummies, it's hard work, the physical side of it is far worse than I thought. Not only lifting them onto your knee. The kids back up to you and you've got to pick them up around the middle and some of them weigh a bloody ton.... but they're sweet. Other than that it's an absolute delight."

Lucas admits he feels a bit uncomfortable when children see him and start screaming. It's something that can happen multiple times during his Santa shift.

"It makes me feel guilty. A lot of parents force their kids to do it for the photo — 'you've got to smile for this horrible old scary man' — when every other time they're told not to go near old scary men offering them lollies. He's promising them something they don't know they are going to get and he's going to visit them in the middle of the night. He's obese and he hasn't shaved, why would children trust the poor old bugger?"

But sometimes the things Santa hears makes him a "bit weepy".

"Last year a lady sat on my lap and said it was her last Christmas. She'd just been diagnosed with cancer and would be dead in a month. That was sad. I also had a little girl who wanted her sister to come back because her parents had split up, all she wanted for Christmas was her sister," Lucas says.

"It is very hard to deal with. All I can say is 'hope for the best, Christmas is a time for miracles'.

"I'm not God, just an old, fat Santa."

 - Stuff

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