Santa Claus annually meets with the media to conduct a candid interview about what he thinks on a variety of topics. This year Santa sat down with Mark Wade, the new Ambassador to the North Pole from My Merry Christmas.com, who is conducting his first ever interview with Santa:
Q: The first thing I want to do is thank you Santa for taking the time to sit down with me. How have you been this year?
A: Great! Nice to see you again, Mark. Have you been a good boy this year? I know I've been trying to do better. When you stay busy it is actually pretty easy to be good.
Q: I'll admit that I have had a few bad days this year Santa. I think the heat wave we had this summer made everyone a little hot under the collar. It just seems hard to be good when you start sweating as soon as you walk out the door. Do you see a higher rate of naughty people in the areas with warmer weather?
A: Oh, goodness, no. There are no fair weather fans in the Santa business. I think weather can stress folks from time to time and we see it even at the North Pole with the winter weather. But people are pretty much the same everywhere.
Q: While we are on the subject of weather there have been a lot of natural disasters again this year. Has the North Pole suffered any damage?
A: Well, we've had some heavy winds, which is unusual. But our environment at the North Pole is pretty harsh naturally so I can't call any of our events to be natural disasters. They happen all the time.
Q: A lot of people believe that all of these natural disasters point to the end of the world. They believe that the Mayan calendar may be right and that the world could end before next Christmas. Do you believe those people are right?
A: Heavens no. We have had the world scheduled to end countless times. Remember Y2K? What a silly thing that was. The Mayans were a very intelligent people. But their calendar only stopped because they just figured they would have time to get to the years past 2012 when they got to 2012. You know, they made that calendar hundreds of years ago. They had to stop it somewhere, so no, I think this end of the world stuff is just silliness.
Q: So you think this is just a natural upswing in activity and not the end of the world?
A: I don't even think it is an upswing. Things just happen. How do you explain having so many years in a row without a major hurricane? Or years on end without a major earthquake? Everything is cyclical. I can recall a winter back in 1881 that was just horrific. Nobody thought a thing about it and never once talked about the world ending. It just happens. I think instead of worrying about the world ending we should worry about living well.
Q: Okay Santa if youíre not worried I guess there is no reason the rest of us should be worried. Now talking about living well. Do you think kids are exposed to more violence today than they were 30 years ago and do you think that it affects their behavior?
A: Well, 30 years ago was 1981. That was the time that John Lennon passed away violently, if I recall. Also, President Ronald Reagan had an attempt on his life. And that was right after the hostage crisis where there were pictures of bad guys with guns on planes. So no, I don't think kids see more today than then. Every generation has had to deal with it. I think the things that affect behavior of children includes too much sugar, too many video games, and too little time with parents and family.
Q: That leads us to a few other topics Santa. Do you think the rising divorce rate around the world is having an effect on the childrenís behavior?
A: Yes, sir. Marriage is a hotly debated topic around the world. Children should not be. Sometimes a kid might have to live without one parent or the other due to a tragic circumstance or accident. But it should otherwise be avoided at all costs. So Santa is very anti-divorce, yes. Children usually have nothing to do with those situations and if there is one thing I wish I could do as Santa it would be to mend broken hearts and to lower contention in homes and families.
Q: In a world where you have to worry about letting your kids go outside by themselves do you think that more parents are using the TV as a babysitter?
A: Not only the television but also cell phones, video games or computers. All these devices are wonderful and serve useful purposes but we wouldn't let a child operate a bulldozer or play with a blowtorch, would we? A child can't muster the self-discipline with these things needed to maintain healthy control. That's what Moms and Dads are for.
Q: McDonald's recently announced that they were going to cut the amount of French fries in their happy meals by half and start including apple slices in every meal. Do you think that is a step in the right direction?
A: Not really. This isn't the fault of a company. A child is going to eat what he is fed. That is the job of a parent. Everyone knows, for example, that I am a big proponent of sugar cookies. And candy canes. And sugar plums. These things in and of themselves are harmless if taken in moderation. Moderation is governed by Moms. Not McDonalds. I like McDonald's, by the way. Last year on Christmas Eve I used the drive through in some town in the middle of Indiana, which is hard to do with 9 reindeer hitched up. They served me with a smile and were most welcoming.
Q: Wow you must have shocked the person working the drive thru. I canít believe they were still open that late on Christmas Eve. Do you think that businesses should close down on Christmas Day?
A: I sure do. In fact, I think all businesses should close down at least once a week. Those folks working that McDonalds on Christmas were sad they could not be with their families. That was one reason I stopped there. I actually thought something was wrong and thought I'd check it out. Then the lady came over the speaker and asked for my order, so I ordered. I had no idea they were actually open. I think there are some people who have to work during those times, people like firemen and folks in hospitals. We should do all we can to support those who make those sacrifices for the rest of us.
Q: Now another problem is the economy. The American economy is in its third year of high unemployment rates and there are fears that the European economy could collapse. Inflation is on the rise worldwide making it harder for struggling families to survive. Do you see more people turning to you during this time? Do you get letters from kids that you've never got letters from before?
A: During times like these I hear more from parents than ever before. Moms and Dads write a lot to see what they can do to provide a Merry Christmas for their children. Some seek advice; some seek other kinds of help. I love hearing from these parents because they were once kids too and I still love them. As for the kids, they write the same all the time no matter what the economy is. They don't know a thing about economies. They just believe in Santa and Christmas and in being happy.
Q: Do you receive a lot of notes from kids that have been forced to move and now they are worried that you won't be able to find them?
A: Yes, every year. But they really don't need to worry about it. We work hard all year long to follow how folks are moving around. A real believer need not worry that Santa will be there. I will be there no matter where you move.
Q: Do you tend to give more practical gifts during these rough times?
A: We sure do. Christmas seems to get all the notice but we work year round at the North Pole to help provide food, blankets, medicines, school books, and all manner of necessities to folks around the world. It is an endless job filled with great blessings. Folks don't see it or pay attention to it because it isn't Christmas and the rest of the year we don't always wrap it with a bow. But we work year round to give, that's just what we do. When Christmas comes during a season of want we believe in meeting those needs as best we can.
Q: I never knew that you were out there helping all year Santa. Why don't you publicize that more?
A: Is that really important? All the time we would spend on publicity could be used for more important stuff. We get a lot of publicity at Christmas time -- all of it free but not all of it useful -- that people really notice us that time of the year. But we're not really publicity seekers, despite the fact that I wear red.
Q: Does it upset you when companies use your name and image to make money?
A: Yes sir, very much so. I don't endorse any products, companies, services, ideas or commercial interests. I might tell you I like something -- like McDonald's a minute ago -- but that doesn't mean they asked me to or that I got a paycheck for saying that or that I want to the world to go buy stuff from them. I'm just a regular guy and I give my opinion like anyone else. But I don't sell it. That just isn't in me.
Q: Santa we all know that you are a huge fan of the Chicago Cubs. Now Iíll admit that I don't really follow baseball but I did some research and know that they are below 500 for the second year in a row. Do you see any hope for them in the future?
A: [sigh] We thought two years ago they were on their way back. There is always hope. There is always next year. I know they've been saying that for a long time now but one of these days it is going to happen.
Q: Do you think the decision to part ways with general manager Jim Hendry was a good one?
A: Jimmy is a good boy. If the Cubs can't use him or if some other team doesn't pick him up we'll bring him up here to organize our summer league.
Q: Any suggestions on who his replacement should be?
A: Oh, my goodness. I'd be afraid to say. I learned a long time ago not to speak too loudly when it comes to things like sports or television shows or movies. If I say a movie is bad no one would go to see it. If I say they should hire Mickey Mouse to run the Cubs, they'd probably go ahead and do it. Nobody wants to upset Santa so Santa has to be careful what he says.
Q: Does Mrs. Claus like to watch the games with you?
A: Oh, she loves baseball more than I do. She played second base back in the day and I understand she was quite a good fielder, too. She's very athletic, you know.
Q: Wow I didnít know that. How is Mrs. Claus by the way?
A: She is doing very well, thank you for asking. She has been working on a new cocoa recipe for this Christmas. We visited some cocoa farms in West Africa and in Chile just after Christmas last year and she spent a lot of time taste-testing new varieties of beans. I'm very excited to see what she comes up with.
Q: Do the two of you like any other sports besides baseball?
A: Oh yes. We play a lot of tennis. We like to hike. And every once in a while we golf, although I'm not very good because I'm left handed. Golf is a humbling game and Mrs. Claus reminds me of that all the time. She's got an excellent short game and she's very good with a putter.
Q: Iíve always wondered who does the decorating at your house Santa. Mrs. Claus or yourself?
A: [laughs] Well, she plans it all and I do it all. Whatever she wants done, I'll do. Except for the windows. She always does the lights and decorations around the windows. She says I'm too clumsy to handle the delicate stuff. That's also why she won't let me frost the cupcakes. She says I'll make a mess of them but that's not true. Any cupcake I mess up, I eat. So there are never any messy ones.
Q: Does Mrs. Claus like to keep the decorations more traditional or do you go over the top with your decorating?
A: I'm sure that if she left me to my own devices, I'd go over the top. But everything she does is tasteful. I tend to go crazy at the workshop. There we not only make toys but we also test all kinds of things, like lights and trains and mechanized snowmen and stuff like that. All the wild things you see that show up in decorating likely had their start at the North Pole. Fiber optics, for example, we actually invented as a means of lightening the sleigh in order to make it faster. We were using it to combine communication needs with awesome illuminating effects for the sleigh. Now fiber optics are everywhere. I still use them on the sleigh because their weight properties are so light and, of course, the speed of electronic transmission through fiber optics have no equal. But my sleighs are almost completely dark now and we do that because of stealth needs and to keep people from calling in UFOs every Christmas Eve. The year we had the sleigh all lit up was a ton of fun for me and the reindeer but it put governments around the world on alert and scared a lot of people because they didn't know what they were seeing in the skies. So I fly dark now.
Q: Do you use an artificial tree or a real tree?
A: I use live real trees where ever I can. Evergreen trees are very important at the North Pole because it is the only kind of green we can get. Indoors we'll use artificial trees when we can't use a live tree. A Christmas tree, once decorated, is a very important part of Christmas, you know.
Q: What do you think of the new Christmas trees that come in every color you could imagine?
A: I like them. I remember back in the day when Christmas lights were new and for the longest time they came in just one color -- white. Then they started coming in different colors and people said it was a fad, that they were silly or ugly and that it would never last. Well, more than 100 years later here we are and nobody is left that argues about the color of lights. And I don't think folks will argue long about the color of trees. I like them fine. I'm yet to ever see a bad Christmas tree. As long as it is decorated with love it is brilliant.
Q: How about the trees that hang up side down?
A: Well, now that one I have a bit of a hard time with. Not that I think they are ugly or anything I just can't stand on my head as long as I used to. My neck gets tired. Upside down trees are a lot of work to look at.
Q: Iíve always wondered if you put the presents on top of the wide part of those trees or down on the floor by the pointy end?
A: My job is to put presents under the tree. So wherever the bottom of the tree is, that's where I put it. Sometimes that takes a lot of velcro.
Q: Do the houses that have big light shows programmed to music spook the reindeer on Christmas Eve?
A: No, not at all. Most of the time we arrive so late folks have turned off most of the lights. But reindeer are used to landing and taking off in lights, wind and that kind of thing. They do have a little problem if there is a busy wind chime, though. Reindeer rely on rhythm to fly and they have to be synchronized in just the right way to fly. That's why we use sleigh bells -- the bells communicate the rhythm to the team. A wind chime can have the same kind of pitch as a bell and sometimes that can throw them off. So every once in a while I have to really give the bells a good shake and kind of play them a while before I can get the reindeer to take off.
Q: Santa as you probably know I collect statues of you. I have close to 100 of them now. Do you ever find it weird that people would want to collect merchandise with your picture on it?
A: I think it is kind of cool, Mark. I mean, everybody wants to play in the major leagues because they get their own baseball card. Or they might want to play in the NBA because they get their own bobble head. So part of me really thinks that is cool. But it can cause some trouble. I had a little girl visit me just a week ago and she was very sweet but she didn't believe I was Santa Claus because I didn't look a thing like the figurine her mother had kept in their home. I explained to her that I'm just a regular person and that I change a little bit over time. My hair grows and stuff like that. It wasn't until her mother came out with a picture of herself as a little girl that she was convinced I could even be the real Santa. You know, I am famous around the world but people have different ideas about what I should look like. For example, in some areas of old Europe they expect me to wear the long coat instead of a short one. Well, that's ok with me; I like that, so I wear a long coat when I am there. Whatever makes people happy.
Q: Is there a certain part of the world that you enjoy going to the most on Christmas Eve?
A: That is a very tough question because I love just about every part of the world. There is something or someone to love about every place I visit. I love the foods I get some places, I love the scenery I see in others, even at night.
Q: Do you ever get worried about going into areas where there has been recent violence or areas that have wars going on?
A: Well, I'm well protected. I'm worried more about NOT going to those areas. The kids around the world are not responsible for the bad things that happen in parts of the world. It is important that I get to them. I've never felt in great danger though. We take precautions and we're ready for just about anything. Don't mess with Santa.
Q: Do you still remember the first toy that you ever made?
A: Goodness, what a question! Yes, it was a toy I made with my father -- it was a figurine, what kids today would call an action figure. I never told my father but the action figure we made was actually my father. He was my hero.
Q: Do you think the evolution of electronic toys has hurt the development of todayís children or made it easier for them to transition into todayís computer based society?
A: I think toys get too much credit for being harmful to kids and not enough credit for where they benefit. Years ago, when we came out with Etch-A-Sketch, we had people say it would keep kids from drawing or creating artistically. When GI Joe came it some said we shouldn't let boys play with dolls. I remember once getting a letter warning me that a Lite Bright would make a kid go blind. It's always something with some people. The truth is that all toys are really the invention of former children. Including computers and video games. These toys are great because they develop eye-hand coordination and engrain a love for technology. They are to be embraced. But like everything else today's toys are exploited by the moneymakers. A video game for Christmas is the gift that keeps on giving because you have to buy accessories and new games for it. And it is a toy, for Pete's sake, so you have to limit it. It would be like stocking your cupboard with candy and then telling your kids to eat healthy. It isn't going to happen, so parents have to put in control. All toys, whether they require batteries or electricity or whatever, should include parent involvement. If parents played video games as much as their kids they'd learn a lot more about their kids.
Q: Do you think the world is becoming too reliant on computers to help with things like basic math?
A: Just the opposite, Mark. Kids have to know math more than ever before thanks to computers. Computers have opened up possibilities and kids have to learn to use math as a tool of making computers equal to the pace of technology. Math is exciting now and kids are doing things now we never thought kids could do before. The third grader of today is doing the math of seventh graders a generation ago. Think about that leap. It is extraordinary.
Q: Okay Santa I think itís time for some fun questions. Before we started Elf Ernest gave me 10 questions that where sent into the North Pole mail room from kids around the world. The first one is from Zane in Washington State. He wants to know if you have a hot tub and do you know how to swim?
A: What an interesting question! Yes, actually, these old bones enjoy a hot tub now and then but pretty much only when Mrs. Claus and I travel. We do not have a hot tub at the North Pole as it would cost too much to keep it heated and I don't like to waste things. We have a little getaway we go to in the mountains of Austria and we rent it every winter for about three or four days and it has a hot tub we enjoy. And yes, I swim like a fish. I love the water.
Q: Sarah from Norway wants to know why you decided to live at the North Pole?
A: Well, three words: location, location, location. It is a close sleigh ride to anywhere in the world from the North Pole. Plus, there is plenty of room here for the reindeer and they love the climate.
Q: Keith from Sydney asked if the elves really dress like they do in the movies?
A: Heavens, no. Elves don't look like they do in the movies either. I don't know who came up with the pointy ears but the movies make it seem that to have pointy ears you are either from outer space or the North Pole. Elves like to dress colorfully, that's for sure. But an elf can be tall or short, skinny or plump and, of course, any color you want. They are normal people.
Q: Rodrigo from Veracruz would like to know if he should leave a light on for you on Christmas Eve?
A: Rodrigo sure is a thoughtful boy, isn't he? Thank him very much for me. But it isn't necessary. I have, believe it or not, a couple of lights I actually wear on Christmas eve. One is cleverly hidden in the white puff ball at the end of my cap and under my coat I wear a tool belt and it has a small flashlight I got from Mrs. Claus for Christmas a few years back. It comes in very handy.
Q: Sam from Berlin wants to know how many toys the elves can make in a day?
A: Oh, gosh. Millions, I suppose. We cranked out a whole army of Barbies just last week. Funniest thing you ever saw because only the girl elves can make the Barbies, that's our rule in the workshop, don't you know. So most the boy elves were out testing water rockets last week while Barbie was getting her makeover in the workshop.
Q: Francisca from Honduras would like to know if you read every letter that comes in to the North Pole?
A: Yes, I really do. I don't answer them all, but I do read them all. The mail that comes in goes through a process. Some comes in by way of email, some come in through regular mail, some through stocking mail and some through fax. That all gets received and then sorted. Emergency mail is read first, then wishlists. My favorite mail is when kids draw pictures in crayon and send them to me.
Q: Tyler in Cairo would like to know if you can really see what he is doing all day?
A: I could if I wanted to. I have elves everywhere, even in Egypt. But I don't have time to watch every kid every day of the year. That's why I ask, have you been good? You tell me. I won't spy on you.
Q: Matt in Arkansas wonders what your favorite book and movie are?
A: Ooh, that's a good question. I love to read. Reading is my favorite thing to do, especially in the winter when I can't play all the time that I want to. It is so hard for me to pick out a favorite book but I can tell you that right now I'm reading an old favorite again by Dickens titled "A Tale of Two Cities". I haven't read it for many years and I forgot how much I enjoyed it. I encourage kids everywhere to read lots of books of all types, especially the classics. As for movies, well, I do enjoy a good movie now and then but I think there are more bad movies that good ones coming out these days. Recently I saw a movie called "The Wind and the Lion", which was an interesting adventure and something of a true story that happened more than 100 years ago. I like action movies and this had a lot of great action in it.
Q: Chao from Hong Kong would like to know where you get all of the supplies to make the toys?
A: We get supplies from all over the world, Chao. We get a lot of bamboo from Brazil and, of course, many paper products come to us from the Far East, like China. I can't think of a place in the world where we don't do business, in fact. We have workshops in nearly every country in the world that either make parts for toys at the North Pole or in some way help with Operation Merry Christmas. Christmas is a global celebration and we like to include everyone in it that we can.
Q: Emily from Florida wants to know besides Mrs. Claus sugar cookies what is your favorite food?
A: That's a great question, Emily, and I hope you believe me when I tell you that I just love sweet corn. There is nothing better to me than a simple steamed ear of white sweet corn grown in some place hot like Northern Africa or the American Midwest. California has great sweet corn, as does Mexico. I could eat it right out of the field, without cooking it or adding butter to it. The reindeer love it too, believe it or not and I like sharing food with the reindeer.
Q: Santa I see our time is running out but before you leave I have a few questions from the members of MyMerryChristmas.com. The first one comes from Shellie12. She wonders if you feel that you are competing with Jesus for attention during Christmas?
A: Goodness, no. If anything, I'd like to give Jesus more attention at Christmas. I'm a big fan, you know. I don't need any attention whatsoever but if the world allowed it I'd teach them everything I could about Jesus. Jesus is the real secret to a merry Christmas.
Q: Merrybells would like to know what your favorite color is?
A: Red. I love red. Red fire engines, red cherries, and even red Christmas cookies -- I love anything red!
Q: Xmas365 wants to know if you have a favorite place to vacation?
A: I've been just about everywhere in the world. It is really tough to pick just one place and say it is the best to vacation. I will tell you this, I love vacation time because I get to spend it with Mrs. Claus and she is what makes every vacation wonderful for me no matter where we go.
Q: Caninemom3 has always wondered how do reindeer fly? Is it the food you feed them or can they just do it naturally?
A: I know Caninemom3 very well. She always thinks about the reindeer. Last year she left them a bigger goodie plate for them than she did for me, bless her heart. And they loved it, too. Reindeer are spectacular athletes, Mark. I don't know exactly how they fly but I know they can and do fly and I work very hard to give them all they need to do it. We feed them, we train them and we work with them year round. But it is a natural thing that makes my job possible.
Q: Finally Sanity Clause would like to know what you do if there is a fire burning in the fireplace when you get to a house on Christmas Eve?
A: I get in an out quickly. My suit is flame retardant, so is my bag. But really, the speed in which is move is the key to getting in and out of a fireplace. I actually like the hot fireplace better than the cold one.
Q: One last question, Santa and this one comes from me. How does Santa have a Merry Christmas?
A: I have a merry Christmas just like anyone else. I think about the people I love and I try to do something special for them.
Q: Mrs. Claus must have everything. What do you get her for Christmas?
A: Well, now, that's a good point and believe it or not it is a good question that I get asked by way of letters at the North Pole all the time. A little girl named Vicki wrote me a letter a while back, very worried about what to get her Daddy for Christmas because it seems to her that her Daddy has everything. And you know, that's the thing that folks don't get about Christmas. When you give a gift you're not giving a thing. You're giving yourself. It is always nice to meet a need when giving a gift or maybe finding something they really, really want and giving that for Christmas. But at the end of the day, you know what? Giving yourself is what Christmas is all about. Mrs. Claus and I hang our stockings and we light our tree and we celebrate Christmas like just about anyone anywhere in the world. But sometimes that Christmas gift is just a waltz under the mistletoe and a smile.
Q: You mean to tell me you haven't given Mrs. Claus something for Christmas every year?
A: Things no, but of myself, yes. Christmas doesn't have to be wrapped, Mark.
Q: Do you think the world understands that, Santa.
A: I think they understand that more in a year like this one. In all my history I've seen good times and bad times and I'll say this for the bad times: they make people think. They make people humble. And they make people smart.
Q: So there are blessings to be found from all the dark clouds around us right now?
A: Yes, you got it, Mark. Great blessings. If I had my way we would have every Christmas season without worrying about that jingle in the pocket. Just remove money from the equation all together and see how folks will get creative in their giving. It isn't about the stuff. It is about the self.
Q: So less can be more?
A: No, less IS more. A true gift of self is never measured in money or the spectacular nature of the gift. Never. A true gift reflects the thoughts and the love of one individual to another. Money and gift wrap and bows and features and benefits all have nothing to do with it. That was the lesson in the Gift of the Magi. That's the lesson from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. That's the lesson of Jesus Christ. We have all the examples in the world. We just need to put it into practice more. We just need to teach that more.
Q: Is that what Santa does?
A: Exactly, Mark...exactly. Merry Christmas.
Santa I once again want to thank you for sitting down with me during your busiest time of year. Meeting you has been a dream come true. Stay safe on your journeys and Merry Christmas!