Santa recently sat down with NPI News Anchor Harry Holden in Chicago to answer the questions sent in by media professionals from all over the world. This is a transcript of their conversation:
Q: So, we meet again, Santa.
A: Yes, Harry. Nice to see you again. Remember the last time we were face to face? I think you were about seven years old.
Q: No, I was eight. I didn't think you existed and I dared you to prove to me that you did.
A: (laughs) Yes! What a fun Christmas that was. I thought you were going to jump out of your skin when I tapped you on the shoulder while you were sleeping.
Q: My mother couldn't shut me up for a week. But I have to ask you -- why me? There must be lots of kids who request a personal visit from you each Christmas Eve.
A: Oh, my, yes. Millions, actually. But I only visit with a few each year. That is all I have time for. So I only do that in very special cases.
Q: Really? Was I a special case?
A: Oh, it wasn't about you, Harry. It was about your little sister, Hannah. She was five years old that Christmas, if I recall.
Q: Oh my gosh. I never knew.
A: Yes, I knew that if I could help you to believe in me that she would be helped too. And look at her now!
Q: Yes, of course. She does great work with kids and the books she writes. Tell me -- does she still write letters to you?
A: Yes. Faithfully. She's pushing 55 years old now, Harry. And she's still a little girl at heart. What about you Harry? You haven't written to me a while.
Q: Oh, I'm sorry, Santa. I didn't know you wanted letters from old guys like me.
A: I want letters from kids of all ages.
Q: What do your letters say this year, Santa? Are kids happy?
A: Yes, many are doing well. At least the ones who write to me. It is the ones who don't write that worry me.
Q: Why wouldn't kids write to Santa?
A: Because they either don't believe in me any more or they've given up hope.
Q: Are you asking for letters then, Santa?
A: Yes, of course. I try to get to every letter. I want to know what kids think, what's important to them.
Q: Do you think kids don't write much anymore is because they don't know how to write? Some say that email and the Internet and such has killed the art of letter writing.
A: Oh, on the contrary. I think technology has revived it. I speak to many folks by way of instant messaging or emails.
Q: Is that the best way to send a letter to Santa? Electronically?
A: No. I still prefer it to be on paper. And in crayon.
A: Yes. Put a crayon into any kid's hand and you'll get not only a letter but a doodle of some sort. Crayons are a magical instrument -- I believe the world would be a better place if everyone just spent a day using a crayon instead of a pen or pencil or computer to communicate.
Q: Santa, you sound like a student of human nature.
A: Nope. Just an observer of what makes the kid in all of us come out.
Q: Last year, your annual interview covered a number of serious subjects. You seem to be in a more whimsical mood this time around.
A: Well, not totally. The world is full of trouble, I don't mean to ignore that.
Q: Tom Brokaw wants to know if you want to tell us anything new a year after September 11th.
A: Certainly. Last year was a tender time for us all. And for folks who lost loved ones on September 11th, this year might only be a little easier than last. It has been a tremendously stressful year. Painful even, for many around the world. I only hope we all take a breather from the worry and stress long enough to have a Merry Christmas.
Q: Can we have a Merry Christmas -- I mean, really? There's this Iraq thing. The poor economy. A drought. El Nino. The elections...
A: And the Cubs. Don't forget the Cubs.
Q: Exactly. There's a lot of sad things going on. Is it alright to be merry?
A: Alright?!! Oh, Harry. It's absolutely necessary.
Q: How do you do it, Santa? How can you remain so positive?
A: It helps to be an old man who has seen many kinds of crisis' over a period of time. Think about it. The last century has seen unprecedented trouble. But usually, the right prevails. We endure wicked people or evil dicators or even, in the case of the Cubs, protracted losing streaks. But eventually things work out if we seek after the right things. I am confident this old world will continue to survive.
Q: Barbara Walters wants to know: do you think you're sexy?
A: Does Barbara have any relevant questions?
Q: Yes, she writes: Santa, why can't you just answer my questions seriously?
A: Okay, I'll tell you. I'm not very concerned with popular culture. The sexiest man or the "most beautiful people" or or such things are not of much value. For every list you put ten people on to celebrate being the best at something you offend a hundred others who might have been just as deserving.
Q: But...you're Santa Claus. Popular culture is what keeps you alive.
A: Oh, baloney. I'm as reviled as I am loved. And I do nothing to warrant extreme attention from either viewpoint. I'm just a man who believes that Christmas is for giving and sharing. And that's got nothing to do with being sexy. Next question.
Q: From Geraldo Rivera...
Q: Geraldo writes that he located the Christmas stocking of Jimmy Hoffa from the last known residence during the period he was known to be alive. He says the stocking is still stuffed. Before he reveals the contents of the stocking on live national television, Geraldo wants to know if you remember what you gave Mr. Hoffa that Christmas?
A: No, I do not and if I did I wouldn't bother speculating. A lot of people give stuffed stockings as gifts, you know. How does Geraldo know it is from me? He would be advised to be careful. Not everyone was an admirer of Mr. Hoffa, you know.
Q: Hey, Santa. They say you can see people when they're sleeping and that you know when they're awake. Is Mr. Hoffa awake or sleeping?
A: I haven't the foggiest.
Q: So, it's not true? You don't know?
A: Oh, I have my ways. When I need to know, I can find out. And let's just leave it at that.
Q: I kind of took it to be a supernatural power on your part. Isn't it?
A: No. I'm just a man. I have trade secrets, of course. I can't just go around spouting to everyone all my tricks in what I do. That would be trouble.
Q: Oh? How so?
A: Well, for one, the knowledge and technology of how I get around the world in one night powered by just eight tiny reindeer would be dangerous in the hands of the airlines or the military command of certain third world countries. With great power comes great responsibility, they say.
Q: All your best lines seem to come from the movies. Did you know that?
A: Huh? You suppose to be Leonard Maltin now?
Q: (laughs) No, he didn't send in any questions. But Katie Couric did. Would you like to answer her question?
Q: Katie wants to know what you think of Matt Lauer's hair?
A: What hair?
Q: Oooohh. That's a little mean!
A: Oh, Matt can take it. He's on TV. And he knows I'm just kidding. Matt's a good boy.
Q: Maybe you'll feel differently about Matt after you hear his question.
A: Ok, shoot. What's Matt want to know?
Q: Santa -- are you ever going to get a new suit?
A: A new suit? That's Matt's question? He interviews presidents and rock stars and he wants to know when I am going to get a new suit?! That's odd.
Q: Well, Matt, like some others out there, thinks that perhaps you need kind of a new look too.
A: Ah, well, I see. Well, tell Matt that I'm not a slave to ratings and don't care to change. Next question.
Q: Ok, from Joe Buck, baseball commentator for Fox Sports. He wants to know if you'll be bringing a manager for the Cubs.
A: No, the Cubs need a lot more help than I can provide them. I'm only Santa, not the Almighty.
Q: Oh? So you still believe the Cubs are hopeless?
A: No. Nobody's hopeless. Look at the Angels.
Q: Did you enjoy the baseball season this year?
A: Yes, except for all that strike stuff. Lots of guys nearly made the naughty list because of that.
Q: Why isn't Santa -- a winter sports guy if there really was one -- big on hockey?
A: Who says I'm not big on hockey? I love hockey.
Q: Do you play?
A: Not anymore. Mrs. Claus doesn't like fighting.
Q: Are there many things Mrs. Claus won't let you do?
A: She doesn't make me do or not do anything. I just know what pleases her and I try to do those things.
Q: How long have you two been married?
A: A long, long time. I'm not sure if we've set a world record yet, but it has to be close.
Q: What's your secret?
A: No secret, really. I'm Santa Claus, so I'm no mystery. And she's, well, Mrs. Claus. There isn't a man alive who wouldn't want to be married to Mrs. Claus.
Q: You seem to be a mystery to a lot of people. In fact, I have a number of questions here reflecting big doubts on your veracity. Some folks seem bent on proving that you don't exist.
A: Yes, that's been true for the longest time. So what?
Q: Their point seems to be that if your existence can be scientifically denied, then the more crass elements of Christmas can be dismissed as unnecessary.
A: Christmas doesn't have any "crass elements", Harry. What are you talking about?
Q: Greed. Commercialism. The Almighty Dollar. The rush and stress of the holidays. A lot of people hate Christmas, you know.
A: Nobody hates Christmas, Harry. Some hate what they make of it. But Christmas in its purest form knows no enemies.
Q: Well, if they're not enemies of Christmas then they are certainly upset. There are plans to picket you in New York this season.
A: Picket me? What did I do to deserve that? And why New York? I have no connection to New York other than an occasional visit. I've done nothing to deserve a demonstration in the highest profile city in the world.
Q: Well, nothing overt. It is more about what you represent.
A: What do I represent, in their eyes, that is so objectionable?
Q: Well, I have nearly 40 questions for you here from a group called The Anti-Santa Society. They say you're a hazard to children.
A: Look, I run a worldwide organization, Harry. I have people against me merely because I like to wear red. Why would your questions from an extremist group prove anything to me or anyone else?
Q: Because they seem to have the ear of several major jounalists.
A: Oh? Like who?
Q: MSNBC. The BBC. National Geographic Magazine. The St. Louis Post Dispatch. And, it seems, the New York Times.
A: I know all about letter writing campaigns, Harry. Just because they've got media outlets taking them seriously doesn't make them relevant. They sound like fodder-makers for a slow news day.
Q: Well, they got a rally attended by nearly 100,000 people who gathered nearly 2 million signatures from folks who vow to keep their children away from Santa Claus. They accuse you of promoting selfishness. They say you're a poor role model due to your lifestyle. They cite your lack of regular work, your physical inactivity, your reclusivity, your high profile abuse of animals and the captivity of your workforce as all poor examples to today's kids.
A: Oh? I suppose they have some sort of plan to reform me too.
Q: Yes, exactly. They think you'd be acceptable as a role model to kids if you would change a few things.
A: Such as?
Q: Well, according to the petition, they want you to first lose a little weight by taking up vegetarianism. They advocate the end of Christmas by designating annual Days of World Life Celebration. On these days instead of delivering presents they want you to speak to large groups of children about the merits of recycling and the abandonment of gasoline-powered vehicles.
A: Wow. Anything else?
Q: Yes, there's a whole list. They want you to stop using trees as a symbol of the season. They believe you could use fish as a more meaningful icon of Christmas.
A: Fish? How do you decorate a fish? What else?
Q: They think Santa should release all his elves from forced servitude.
A: I don't force the elves to do anything. I pay them, as employees. They get benefits and everything. What makes them think the elves are slaves?
Q: They say that history has proven that when a singular race or group of people work in seclusion without a voice they are slaves.
A: Elves are not a race or a singular group. That's absurd. And they certainly have a voice of their own. What else are they charging?
Q: They want you to become a peace advocate.
A: I am a peace advocate. Have been for decades.
Q: No, they want you to become their kind of peace advocate.
A: What does that mean?
Q: They want you to talk to world leaders, hold rallies, fire up the people for the cause and use your wide influence for good.
A: I think I do this already. I talk to many world leaders, some almost every day. I don't hold many rallies but I'm in nearly all the malls, mingling with the people. I believe I do use my wide influence for good.
Q: That's not what they say. How will you respond to these people, Santa?
A: There's no response to give, Harry, because they haven't approached me. They've gone to people like you in the media to advance their beliefs by attacking me. They're using me. If they really were concerned about who I am and what I represent they would talk to me -- and not about me. The funny thing is, to me, they are no different than the big companies who use my picture or name to promote their products. Isn't that ironic?
Q: They say having to write a letter to you or to sit on your lap at a mall is demeaning and they won't do it. They insist that you're unapproachable.
A: They could always leave a note in their stockings. Or simply wait up for me on Christmas Eve.
Q: But when they don't believe in you, that seems a little silly. They want to know why you just don't face the press more or show up for meetings.
A: Well, I can't wait around to see what pleases everyone. I have work to do and little time to waste on folks who are bigoted and inflexible. Besides, if they don't believe in me why I am so relevant to their cause?
Q: You sound a little testy now, Santa. Have I angered you?
A: No, not at all. And I'm sorry to be so impatient with you. But I cannot abide intolerance. I don't travel the world campaigning for popularity. I don't espouse a cause beyond being kind to each other and learning to give selflessly. If someone wants to oppose that, fine. But don't ask me to come around to debate it.
Q: Don't you worry about what these people can do to your image? Aren't you concerned they will ruin Christmas?
A: My image is the last thing I worry about. I'm not what Christmas is all about. I just a big fan of Christmas. But Christmas is bigger than me, bigger than anyone. And nobody can ruin Christmas.
Q: Art Bell sent in a question. Are you ready for it?
A: Sure. Art Bell is a believer. It will be nice to hear something from him.
Q: Art wants to know what the top speed is you've ever achieved on the sleigh.
A: That's easy. About four times the speed of light.
Q: Wow. That's impossible.
A: Well, that's what they said about 50 years ago before breaking the sound barrier. Nothing is impossible.
Q: Here's a question from Dan Rather. He wants to know if Santa would ever consider running for political office?
A: No. I have work enough to do. I'll leave that kind of work to the folks who are good at it.
Q: Peter Jennings asks: Do you think the world will be at war by next Christmas?
A: I pray not. This has been a very tense time and war has been a real possibility. If folks are really concerned about role models for kids and how they are influenced it seems to me they should be focusing on the better elements of peace, such as Christmas and Santa Claus.
Q: Leslie Stahl sent in this question: How will you serve children in Iraq this Christmas?
A: I will serve believers everywhere equally. I've been challenged for years in many areas of the world, including Iraq, as you well know. But nothing will keep me from good kids everywhere. I will be there.
Q: Deborah Norville writes: "Santa, do you ever think of retiring?"
A: No. I have no plans for the future other than to wear myself out in the service of others. This isn't work for me, really. It is life.
Q: Don't you ever get tired of the routine?
A: No. There is no routine. I mean, yes, a day comes around on the calendar each year but that's not Christmas. Christmas is helping folks out, making kids smile, showing people a good time and promoting good will. It's always Christmas and there's nothing routine about it.
Q: What's your favorite part of Christmas?
A: Well, there's a lot to like. And I like just about everything about it. But I have to say, honestly, there's nothing better than putting up a Christmas tree.
Q: The Christmas tree is the best part of Christmas?
A: Sure. It is a very individual thing. No two trees are alike -- even artificial trees. The represent what we feel most about the season because we all decorate and shape our trees. We give them new life, which is also what Christmas is all about. The tree is a celebration, a thing of beauty, a reminder of what is right and good. It is hard to be unhappy around a Christmas tree.
Q: What about Christmas music, Santa? Is there a particular song or CD or musical group that you like better than others?
A: Well, again, there's so much to like in this category, Harry. I like spontaneous caroling by untrained voices. Oh, don't get me wrong. There are world famous voices or orchestras or bands or groups that I like. But nothing is better than just an average group of every day folks just sharing a simple carol together.
Q: Lou Dobbs wants to know: Does Santa make any money off of Christmas?
A: No. I don't have use for money in any way whatsoever.
Q: Really? How do you survive?
A: Well, we have savings from our younger years, you know. Plus, property values at the North Pole aren't so hot and that makes it a pretty cheap place to live. And I have a workshop so, if I need anything, I just make it.
Q: Don't you get any compensation from those companies who use your image to sell their products?
A: No. They don't believe I exist so there's no need to pay me. Isn't that a convenient arrangement?
Q: Why don't you do something about it? You could sue, you know.
A: Oh c'mon. Don't you think I could make more productive use of my time? If I went on the offensive for every wacko out there who takes pot shots at Santa Claus what else would I have time to do? Well, I wouldn't be Santa and then where would we be?
Q: Do you feel your popularity is slipping?
A: Sometimes I do. When folks fight or are critical of each other I worry that maybe they're not getting enough Christmas in their lives. But the best way to deal with that is to just be myself and encourage others to be the best they can be.
Q: Have you ever thought of advertising yourself or holding some sort of crusade to heighten awareness of better behavior amongst neighbors and kids?
A: Heavens no. I don't have a publicist or need to engage in campaigns. I think the idea of Santa Claus is pretty well established in this world. People can either accept me or ignore me. I'm harmless and don't care to be high profile in any way at all.
Q: Are you shy, Santa?
A: Yes, I think I am. I don't like a lot of attention on myself, to be honest. I only want to see people happy and involved with each other. And they can do that without me.
Q: You're a superstar. People recognize you from all over the world. Children adore you, parents defend you. Is it difficult to be that popular?
A: Well, a minute ago you were telling me how many people think I am bad. I don't get too caught up in either extreme, to tell you the truth.
Q: Do you have anything you want to tell the world in Christmas 2002?
A: Yes. Be good to each other. Celebrate your differences, don't curse them. Give. Be gracious. And have a Merry Christmas.
Q: That's it?
A: That's it.
Q: Santa, thanks for meeting with us again. Do you intend to continue these annual interviews?
A: If that's all you guys want for Christmas, I'll do my very best.
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