Santa almost agreed to do Larry King this year. Since Larry was a really good boy, Santa almost gave in. But Santa has so many friends in the media that it would not be fair to be interviewed by just one. So I arranged for media professionals from around the globe to send me questions and I put them in an interview that has become an annual tradition here at the North Pole.– Elf Ernest
Q: Santa, how are you feeling?
A: Fine, thanks for asking. In fact, I’ve never been better.
Q: How is it that you never seem to get any older?
A: Well, I do get older. With each passing second, I get old just like anyone else.
Q: How old are you?
A: As old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth.
Q: You’ve used that answer for a long time.
A: Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Q: Aren’t you a little worried about your weight or your cholesterol?
A: No. I am what I am. And my cholesterol level is outstanding. Higher than anyone else’s, they tell me. I am most proud of the fact that I did that without even trying.
Q: Really? Doesn’t that concern you?
A: Not really. I am a big man. I have a need for a high cholesterol count. But I take good care of myself and exercise more than any other man my age that I know.
Q: Do you know other men your age?
Q: Do you ever get tired of it?
A: Tired of what?
Q: Christmas. You know — visiting all those kids in the mall, going down all those chimneys?
A: Dan Rather sent that question in, didn’t he?
Q: How’d you know?
A: I know Dan. His Christmas wish list as a kid read like a grocery list from my wife when she has the flu. This isn’t 60 Minutes. Move on.
Q: How do you get to every house throughout the world in just one night?
A: I work fast. I skip breaks. I eat a lot of sugar cookies. And I have a lot of help too.
Q: What do you do the rest of the year?
A: I’m a husband. That means I putter around the house, getting the things done my wife wants done. I read a lot. I travel some. I visit people. I grow things.
Q: Have you ever thought of retiring?
A: No. I work one day a year. Who’d want to give up a job like that?
Q: Would you consider being a football commentator?
A: No. They work all the best holidays. Who’s asking? Chris Berman?
Q: Yes. How’d you know that?
A: He asked before.
Q: When you are in the sleigh, do you play music?
A: Yes, sometimes I do.
Q: What do you listen to?
A: It depends on what country I am in. I try to listen to the local top ten, if I’m in the mood.
Q: Do you really eat all those cookies left out for you all over the world?
A: Of course. Why else do you think I stay out all night? Sheesh.
Q: Would you ever run for office?
A: What for?
Q: To be president of a country or something?
A: I’m already a president of something.
Q: What are you president of?
Q: What does M.E.S.S. stand for?
A: Merry Elves in the Service of Santa.
Q: Wait a minute-you’re president of the union of elves who work for you?
Q: What kind of deal is that?
A: Pretty smart management, if you ask me.
Q: How can you get away with that?
A: Hey it wasn’t my idea and the voting was near unanimous. Nothing I could do about it.
Q: Really? Don’t you have any problems with it ethically?
A: Not yet.
Q: What about Mrs. Claus?
A: She was the reason the vote was only nearly unanimous.
Q: She’s a member too?
A: Yep she’s vice president.
Q: How’d that happen?
A: I voted for her.
Q: Oh, I see. Do you have any problems with the Elf Union?
A: Only when they hold a convention.
Q: Really? Why? A: Elves tend to get a little excitable. When they drink a lot of root beer, things get a little crazy.
Q: Really? Any of them ever get arrested?
A: Yes, but never convicted. Next question, please.
Q: Have you ever really seen a reindeer fly?
A: I’ve seen a horse fly. I’m familiar with many species of insects, but I don’t recall ever hearing of the reindeer fly.
Q: You could put presents anywhere. Why stockings?
A: It’s kind of a fetish.
A: Next question, Geraldo.
Q: We see lots of kids getting computer games and such from you for Christmas. How can you do that when so many of the people of the world need things like food and medicine?
A: This one has to be from Ted Koppel. That’s what I can’t stand about the media. You focus on just one day of what we do and you never look at what we do the other 364 days of they year. The Santa organization works these issues everyday in almost every country in the world.
Q: You sound a little defensive about that. Do you think you get a bum rap?
Q: Is it hard to be Santa?
A: Only when people try to represent me for something I am not.
Q: Like for product endorsements?
A: Yes. I’ve never endorsed a product in my life. But the Coca-Cola people would have you think I drink nothing else and that I invented their corporate colors. If they only knew the truth. I won’t say it here, but my cola of choice does not start with the letter C.
Q: What do you do when you see an image of yourself in your travels?
A: I add a lot of names to the naughty list. Advertising executives, marketing directors, product managers and company presidents take up more than their share of space on that list.
Q: We know what happens to the kids on the nice list. But do the others really get coal?
A: Not anymore. Now they get Streisand tapes and CDs.
Q: Ooooh. That’s cold. Do you think Barbra minds?
A: Not since she stopped selling concert tickets, no.
Q: I gather that you are not a fan?
A: What is this, Entertainment Tonight?
Q: Sorry. What is it that you want people to get from the holidays?
A: I want them to enjoy time with each other, to share what they know, to fill each other’s lives with warmth and happiness. To serve each other. Nobody really remembers what I bring them from one year to the next if they are celebrating properly. It’s not about the gifts. It’s about the giving.
Q: Are people getting that message?
A: Some are. Many more could. We’ll keep trying though. That’s why we focus on the kids. They listen better.
Q: Do many adults believe in you anymore?
A: Yes, many still do. The concern is for those who never did and for those who were never really kids. There’s too many of those in the world.
Q: How do you reach them?
A: By getting them to witness the miracle of it amongst the believers out there. Nothing convinces like evidence. And we try to leave evidence everywhere we can.
Q: Really? Like what?
A: Like John Rocker.
Q: John Rocker? Really?
A: Yeah. Now there’s a kid who’s misunderstood.
Q: Oh sure, especially on the subway.
A: Don’t get me wrong. John was a bad boy and it cost him a lot last Christmas.
Q: So how can you hold Rocker up as evidence?
A: Because he understands now that he hurt people. And yet he still believes in me. He writes me all the time and I tell you, he’s making progress. Sooner or later, that will be very evident to people around him.
Q: So Rocker’s going to have a good Christmas this year?
A: Christmas isn’t even here yet and I already helped him.
A: By helping him find his slider. It got him 29 saves in what was otherwise a lousy season.
Q: But his team went nowhere this year.
A: Well, the tough thing about being Santa is that sometimes the answer is “no”.
Q: Is that what Rocker asked for this year? The World Series?
A: No, he wanted something bigger than that.
Q: What could be bigger than that?
A: The chance to take it all back, in his case.
Q: What’d you tell him?
A: I told him to talk to Pete Rose about it.
Q: Wow. Are you a big sports fan?
A: Of course I am.
Q: Who do you pick for the Super Bowl this year?
A: Hey I can dream can’t I?
Q: What about the NBA Championship?
A: Oh simple: the Jazz.
A: Cause I have a weakness for old guys.
Q: Do you think Larry King would ask you these kinds of questions?
A: Probably. It’s the Barbara Walters questions I don’t look forward to.
Q: Do you have a problem with women named Barbara?
A: No, there are far more than just the ones we discussed.
Q: If you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
A: You just had to ask didn’t you?
Q: Actually, I was teasing. Want to know what she really asked?
A: Sure, why not?
Q: If Sean Connery could be the sexiest man alive in his sixties, what does that make Santa?
A: Still married. Next question.
Q: Do you have a favorite Christmas carol?
A: Yes. Angels We Have Heard on High.
Q: What about a Christmas food. Any particular favorites?
A: Cookies made by kids… and Mrs. Claus.
Q: If a kid says he wants to grow up to be Santa, what do you tell him?
A: I tell him he’s got a worthy goal and to try his best. There are much worse things to aspire to.
Q: Do you have any replacements for you in training?
A: Yes. Scores of millions of them all over the world. I’m not so unordinary as a person. And there are plenty of extraordinary people out there more than capable of being Santa.
Q: Really? What’s it take to be Santa?
A: The best qualification I can think of is love.
Q: Who taught you and qualified you to be Santa?
A: My mother.
Q: Really? No college?
A: Love isn’t taught in college. At least not the kind of love it takes to be Santa.
Q: But doesn’t it take a long time to gain these skills?
A: You only need one skill. God gave you two ears and one mouth. And you’re supposed to use them in that proportion. We give the secret to every kid who sits on my lap. Ask any one of them and they will tell you that I told them to listen to their mothers. If people only did that more, not only would there be more people competing for my job but there’d be fewer problems in the world too.
Q: Some moms want their kids to grow up to be doctors. Did your mother want you to be Santa?
A: As I said before, there are worse things to aspire to. My mom’s pretty happy with the way things turned out, I think.
Q: Did your mother ever get upset with you?
A: Oh yes. Many times. Sometimes she still does.
Q: Your mother is still living?
Q: Interesting. What can she possibly get upset with you about these days?
A: Well, for one thing, she loves Streisand.
A: And Barbara Walters.
Q: What about John Rocker?
A: She worried for his mother.
Q: And Dan Rather?
A: Next question, please.
Q: There are some things you just won’t talk about, will you?
A: Well, being Santa means being jolly and keeping things merry and bright.
Q: Oh, so it’s kind of hard to put a good spin on things like Dan Rather, eh?
A: Leave Dan alone. He can handle his own spin, he doesn’t need me.
Q: Why don’t you talk to the press more? Why don’t you write a book?
A: Because the world isn’t really all that interested.
Q: Oh, c’mon. You get millions of letters each week. Do you really believe that?
A: I talk to the people who really want to know. Who are pure in heart. The kids who send me letters, the believers who line up in the malls, the ones who leave out cookies and milk for me; these are the people who know me and understand me. There’s not a need to sell another book.
Q: What about all those web sites on the Internet who claim they are the “official” home of Santa and the North Pole?
A: I have my research department working on this and they tell me that most of these online people have genealogical roots in common with the people at Coke. If they are Christmas purists, they would not advertise on their site for any commercial entity and nowhere would they be asking for money. I want no part of that. And anyone who does that is not associated with me at all.
Q: Gee. Some of those sites are pretty neat though.
A: Well, they’re not all bad. I know they have some things of value. It’s a shame to associate all that is good with other things that cheapen the message of Christmas. Few things make my blood boil. And this is one of those things.
Q: What other things irritate you?
A: Um, taxes. Waiting in lines. Celebrities and their politics. Singers who have no business singing anything from “Cats”. The designated hitter. You know, the usual.
Q: Wow. Are you an impatient man?
A: No more than the next guy. I’m a human being and I’m not perfect. Like everyone else, I am learning tolerance and self control. Mother still says I have potential though.
Q: Do people ever give you Christmas wishes that you can’t handle?
A: Oh yes. Unfortunately, more people are self absorbed enough to remember when they didn’t get what they really wanted for Christmas. For example, a man who is big in politics recently asked me for an honorable legacy. There just wasn’t a thing I could do about that. I’m just Santa, not God.
Q: Oh my. Why did he ask you for that?
A: I think I was his last resort — kind of the final court of appeals, so to speak.
Q: Is there anything you can do to help kids who don’t get what they want?
A: I try. I do the very best I can. But some things are beyond our understanding. But kids who focus on what they get instead of what they give may never approach understanding. If there was some way that I could instill gratitude more, I would.
Q: Yes. You have said before that Thanksgiving is your favorite holiday. Why is that?
A: Because it’s the purest kind of holiday there is and almost every culture recognizes a day of thanks. It is probably the single celebration we all share. It is centered around the idea that we live in a wonderful world and that we benefit so much from it. And it is time we acknowledge it and to celebrate it. Those very thoughts give me chills.
Q: Santa almost every person in the world dreams of you and the magic of Christmas. What about you? What is magical to you?
A: You know what? If you ask those kids who say they dream about me and the magic of Christmas you’ll find that what they are really saying is that they love being loved. It’s not really one thing. It’s all of it put together. It’s the lights and the tree and the decorations and the food and the singing and the merriment and the laughter and the warmth and the joy of it all. It is home and love and kindness. And that’s just what I love about it too.
Q: What about the non-believers out there?
A: Well, to each his own. I only want them to be happy. And many of them are, even without me. And that’s terrific. I’d rather they love the ones they’re with than to just love Santa.
Q: But don’t you want to turn them around? To make them believers?
A: No. I’m not a religion. Lots of people don’t believe in me but that doesn’t mean they don’t believe in love and giving. And that’s what is really important anyway.
Q: What about kids who once believed but don’t anymore?
A: Well, belief is not as important as what they do. If they turn cynical, if they get bitter or greedy, then we have a big problem. You see, when they believe in me, there’s something I can do about bitterness and greediness. Some kids are naturally going to get carried away. But we can teach them as long as they believe because Santa is all about giving, not getting. But when they swing the other way when their belief in Santa dies it seems they want, want, want and don’t know how to give.
Q: What do you do when people say “Santa’s kind of like an idea, not a real person”?
A: I say that we need more people that are kind of like an idea.
Q: What about parents? Do you have any advice for them?
A: Believe it or not, I exist more for them than I do for the kids. It’s the parents who really worry me. And if I can get them to believe in me again things would really improve. My advice to parents is this: if you give your kids anything, give them time. Not just at Christmas. That’s the tragedy we have to address — even more than feeding the hungry and clothing the poor. There are souls out there starving mostly because parents fail to see it.
Q: Do parents ever write you letters?
A: No. A lot of really big kids do though.
Q: Santa, this is kind of a personal question. Do you have a Santa?
A: Well, of course I do. Any person with love inside them does.
Q: Answer seriously, do reindeer really fly?
A: When necessary, yes. Just like most business people.
Q: Why do you always wear red?
A: So I won’t be mistaken for anyone else.
Q: One final question: what does Santa get Santa for Christmas?
A: Another year on the job. And a waltz under the mistletoe with Mrs. Claus.