Once a year – usually in October – Santa sits down with a media representative and fields questions. As in years past, Santa has asked journalists from all news organizations to consolidate their questions into this one interview. Santa almost agreed to meet with Barbara Walters this year, but declined the invite because he can’t really decide what kind of tree he would be, if he were a tree. So he is sitting down with Archie Nichols, Professor of Journalism at the University of Southern North Dakota, for this year’s interview:
Q: Hello, Santa. Have you had a good year?
A: Yes, Archie, hello. It has been an excellent year.
Q: How big is the naughty list this year, Santa?
A: Bigger than ever. We just might set a record. We haven’t seen a year like this since 1968.
Q: I remember that year.
A: I’ll bet you do, Archie. What did you do with all that coal?
Q: (laughs) We had a barbeque, of course. Santa, are you still giving coal out to bad little kids?
A: No, no. That’s an old wives tale, actually. Coal back in the old days was actually a good thing. Folks needed it to cook and to stay warm. A child might not want to get coal instead of a toy, but they never turned it away. Nowadays, giving coal to a child would be a little mean, I think.
Q: How do you know if a kid has been bad or good?
A: Well, to be honest, you can just kind of tell. In my mind, all kids are good. I mean, they’re kids, they don’t know everything. I don’t think there are too many who intend to be bad.
Q: So why then all the focus on the naughty list?
A: Hey, you asked the question, I didn’t bring it up.
Q: Yes, but you said it was the worst year since 1968.
A: Yes, but weren’t you about 9 years old that year? If I recall right, Archie, you had a pretty rough year in 1968.
Q: I think you’re right. But I still think I had a good Christmas.
A: Yes, you had a great Christmas. You were a rowdy kid. But look at you now. You’re okay. I always knew you would be. You’re an inspiration to children everywhere, Archie. If you can come around anyone can.
Q: Oh, Santa, stop it.
A: Ok, but enough about this naughty business. The world is too caught up with this whole idea of Santa knowing who’s good and who’s not.
Q: Kids everywhere are worried if they are on the list though – how can they tell?
A: Oh, those that are know it, believe me. If you’re unsure, then you’re probably not on the list.
Q: How much of your time do you spend on the Naughty List, Santa?
A: None. A kid ends up on the naughty list because his Mom or Dad wants him there, usually. I get lots of letters and most are from kids but many come from parents too. They usually want to know what to do about a rowdy kid and sometimes they put their own kid on the naughty list.
Q: Really? What kind of Mom would put her own kid on Santa’s Naughty List?
A: Usually a very good mom. If a Mom comes to me with this kind of a problem that means she is intent on making it better. My hat is off to Moms like that. Look, the naughty list is just that – a list. Like going to the grocery store, it’s just something to remind you. Being on the naughty list doesn’t mean you won’t have a good Christmas. And it doesn’t mean you’ll get coal. It just means we need to work with that kid a little more and that means different things for different kids. But I’m not about tracking bad kids. I don’t have time for such silliness.
Q: Really, Santa? What about all that “he knows when you’re sleeping” stuff?
A: Pretty simple, really. A kid usually sleeps with his eyes closed. When I see a kid with his eyes closed I assume he’s asleep. That’s how I know.
Q: You mean that if a kid is doing something bad you don’t actually know it or see it?
A: Not always. I don’t have time to watch every kid. But if a kid is out of line I usually hear about it.
Q: Are you sure you want that information going out to the world?
A: I believe in being honest. I never once said I was a spy. That was something the world made up, but it never came from me.
Q: But Santa – if you tell children all over the world that you don’t actually know if they’re good or bad won’t that make more of them want to be bad?
A: I don’t think so. I have faith that kids know to be good and are good without the threat of having me watch them all the time to motivate them.
Q: Wow, Santa. I grew up thinking you were over my shoulder all the time.
A: I’m sorry you thought that. I wasn’t.
Q: My brother once told me that Santa would come and take me away to live with a family of monkeys in the jungle.
A: (laughs) Well, your brother just might be one of the reasons there is so much poor information about me out there. No, I’d never do that – although the thought of some kids living in trees with monkeys is a very funny idea. It might not be fair to the monkeys though.
Q: Santa, you’re an unusual man. Many kids don’t believe in you because you are almost too good to be true. Most kids today are taught not to take candy from strangers and to stay away from people they don’t know. You come inside people’s homes and leave presents in the middle of the night. These kids don’t really know who you are. How do you expect kids to believe you are real?
A: Well, I come and leave plenty of evidence. But I think your point is a good one. It is important for you to remember, Archie, that I am actually different things to different people. What you describe is really the American Santa and there’s nothing wrong with that. But in places like Italy, Germany and Africa I’m thought of a little differently.
Q: Are you saying there are more Santa believers in those countries than in the United States?
A: No. I’m saying that how I am perceived depends upon the culture. In fact, I will admit to you that I do different things in different countries. I bring kids different stuff, my habits are just a little unique from place to place. I do these things because that is what people expect of me. As long as it is a good service, if it teaches love, if it helps people come together and treat each other well I will do whatever the world requires.
Q: So you don’t expect kids in the United States to believe in you?
A: Well, of course, I do. I believe in them so they should believe in me. But unlike other strangers or adults they don’t know they do know me. I don’t have the ability to stop and visit all the time with all kids. Most kids understand that. But they can get to know me by talking to their parents and other people they know who believe in me. They all have stories of meeting Santa or having an experience with me. This is how kids get to know me.
Q: When a kid sees you in a mall, sometimes they get scared. Does that make you feel bad?
A: A little. But that kind of reaction is normal. Kids usually see a picture of me in a book somewhere and when they see me in person it gets a little weird. I accept that. I’m a big guy and sometimes a big man with lots of hair on his face can be scary to a kid. The little ones don’t mean to cry, they just don’t know what else to do. I try to talk to them calmly and check with Moms and Dads about how to help.
Q: What about the reindeer? How come kids can’t see reindeer when they come to visit you in the mall?
A: Well, reindeer are very special animals. I love them. But, like kids, they have some things about them that require control. Most reindeer do not like crowds. In a crowd they can actually get very nervous. That’s the main reason I don’t bring them there.
Q: The world doesn’t know of any reindeer that can fly except for your reindeer. How come reindeer only fly for Santa?
A: Back in the old days, when I first started doing all this, reindeer were the only way to get around. Now there are planes and helicopters and other means of transportation. But I’ve stuck with reindeer because I like them and they like doing this. I don’t know why they fly for me, to be honest. I didn’t know they could fly either. I set out one Christmas Eve thinking I’d be gone for a couple of years, delivering presents to good kids all over the world. When I told them what I was doing and why, they kind of winked to each other and took flight. I don’t know how they do it. But they do it every Christmas. It is their gift to me and to kids everywhere.
Q: But can’t you see that using flying reindeer is a reason that some kids don’t believe in you?
A: Kids just want to know the truth. If they see something that doesn’t make sense to them, they don’t believe it. Ask a kid in a faraway place without modern technology about telephones and he will tell you there is no such thing. But put a telephone in his country and he becomes an instant believer. It is the same with me. Every once in a while you’ll meet a kid who has met me or seen me in the sky on Christmas eve, flying with my reindeer. Then they believe.
Q: Why don’t more kids get to see you on Christmas?
A: Because I come when folks are sleeping.
Q: Why don’t you come during the daytime? Wouldn’t it be safer?
A: Oh, heavens no. Crowds are so big during the holidays. And if I came during the day there would be no surprises. And there’s no way I could get around to everyone even with flying reindeer. It is much better for kids to go to sleep and let me do my job.
Q: Santa, we have a number of questions here from media personalities. How would you like to proceed with their questions?
A: One at a time.
Q: Ok, our first one is from Tom Brocaw. He wants to know: is Santa responsible for the fleecing of America?
A: No. I don’t know what Tommy is talking about. I know how to fleece sheep but I don’t know anything about fleecing Americans. What an unusual question.
Q: Chris Berman from ESPN asks: Santa, we know you’re a huge sports fan. What was the sports story of the year for you?
A: Oh, hands down, Mikey Weir winning the Masters.
Q: Really? Not the Bucs in the Super Bowl or the Spurs winning the NBA? Or the Marlins the World Series?
A: Oh, those are all great stories but sometimes I like the accomplishment of one individual against the odds. That is one reason why I like the Olympics so much. That is real sport.
Q: I had no idea you were a golf fan, Santa. Do you golf?
A: Yes, but not very well. I have a hard time seeing the ball beneath my stomach.
Q: Katie Couric sent in this question: Santa, what is Mrs. Claus’ first name?
A: Ah, I get this question every year. And the truth is, I won’t tell you. That’s just between me and her.
Q: But the world only knows her as Mrs. Claus!
A: And that is how it should be. She is my wife. I want to world to respect her. She is the most important person in the world to me. And everyone everywhere calling her Mrs. Claus just seems proper. She’s not an Oprah or a Martha or a Madonna or a Cher or anything like that. She’s Mrs. Claus. When you say that you show respect, and you should. I wouldn’t be Santa without her.
Q: Dan Rather of CBS news sent this question: If Santa knows when you are sleeping and knows when you’re awake, can he tell us where Osama or Sadaam are?
A: No. Those two boys have been a heap of trouble for a lot of folks and I’d like to find them too. But I’ve talked to both of their mothers and they swear they haven’t seen them.
Q: What do you think, Santa, about the war in Iraq?
A: I think it is an awful, terrible thing. It makes me sad.
Q: So you’re at odds with the American president on this issue?
A: No, not at all. The world long gave notice to the bad man in Iraq to be nice. And he didn’t do it. I’m just sad that it came to this. I hope they get things fixed there soon.
Q: Do you follow the news much?
A: Yes, I watch many news channels in most countries. It is very important for me to know what is going on in the world.
Q: From Dr. Phil comes this question: Santa, isn’t time to lose a little weight?
A: Yes, by all means, Dr. Phil is right. And I want the world to know I fully support his efforts to trim down a little. Go for it, Dr. Phil, and good luck to you in losing weight.
Q: Oh, I think he meant that you, Santa, are suppose to lose weight.
A: Really? Why would he think that? I’m fit as a fiddle. Tell Dr. Phil to mind his own beeswax.
Q: Whoa, Santa. You seem a little put off by that suggestion.
A: I shouldn’t be surprised, the question comes up every year. But I am weary of it.
Q: The world just loves you and has concern for your health, Santa.
A: I know. But I’m healthier than any other man my age that I know.
Q: How old are you, Santa?
A: A little more than 1100 years old.
Q: I must say, you look remarkable for your age.
A: Thank you. I believe my diet has a lot to do with that.
Q: What do you eat – besides milk and cookies, that is?
A: Oh, the usual stuff. Cheeseburgers, bran cereal, a couple of apples now and then.
Q: Santa, there’s big concern for people who eat a lot of cheeseburgers, you know.
A: Yes, I’ve seen many of the books. Quite honestly, so much of that is hooey. I believe that you just need to eat everything in moderation. Meat is okay, vegetables are okay, dairy is okay. Just don’t overdo it or leave something out. It’s worked for me for 1100 years and my doctor says I’m fine. My cholesterol is outstanding and I can outrun most kids.
Q: You can?
A: Yes, no doubt about it. The day I can’t is the day I’m not Santa anymore.
Q: From Paula Zahn come this question: Santa, what do you do for fun?
A: Oh, that Paula. What a cute little girl she’s always been. I do all kinds of things for fun. I play games. I have the best toyshop in the world, you know. I love sports. I tinker on my computer. I watch movies. I take my wife on dates. I listen to music. I read a great deal. These things are great fun to me.
Q: Where does Santa take Mrs. Claus on a date?
A: Oh, we’ve been all over the world. This year we traveled to South America. We got to go to Italy. We had a grand time in Vancouver. And we spent an enchanting weekend in San Antonio.
Q: You went to all those places? Didn’t anyone notice you?
A: No, why should they? We’re just a little old couple of folks from up north who venture south for warmer weather like a lot of travelers. I leave my Santa suit behind on these trips and we look just like average folks. If it were not for my name on the credit card nobody would notice at all.
Q: Oprah Winfrey asks: “Is it hard being Santa?”
A: No, it is the easiest job in the world.
Q: But isn’t it a little expensive?
A: Not really. The rent is really cheap at the North Pole. Reindeer don’t cost a lot to feed. I wear the same suit on the job every year. Actually, compared to most folks I spend very little on Christmas.
Q: What happens to you on Christmas? How do you and Mrs. Claus celebrate Christmas?
A: Like most folks, we spend it together. We take the day off and enjoy each other’s company. We exchange gifts, like most folks.
Q: This might sound funny, but does Santa come to Santa’s house?
A: Oh yes, and he always leaves surprises. We hang stockings, like everyone else.
Q: You fill your own stocking?
A: No. What’s in my stocking is always a surprise to me.
Q: Well, if you don’t fill your stocking, who does?
A: Santa does.
Q: But you’re Santa
A: Yes I am.
Q: But you’re always surprised by what Santa brings you? I don’t understand this, Santa.
A: It is difficult for me to explain. But Santa comes to my house like he does anyone else’s and I’m always surprised by what he brings.
Q: But don’t you know what you bring –to yourself?
A: I see where you’re going with this, Archie. But it is true. When I go home and get to spend Christmas with my family I open my presents and I am surprised just like everyone else is with what Santa brought. I can’t explain it clearer than that.
Q: But if you bring it you can’t be surprised by what Santa brings.
A: Archie – did you ever get married and have children?
A: Where there’s the problem. You can’t understand how this works because you’ve never had kids. Your belief in Santa is something of a miracle. When you are a parent, then you will understand my answer about what Santa brings to me. But for now, you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that Santa comes to my house, gives me presents and he always surprises me with what he give me. Every year.
Q: Yes, I find this a bit strange. How can you bring something for yourself but not know what it is before you open it? This is odd.
A: Archie – have you ever seen yourself in a dream?
A: Okay then. It is kind of like that.
Q: Wait, wait, wait – you mean that this is a kind of Zen thing? Mystical powers, smoke and mirrors, pixie dust?
A: Yeah, kind of. But I’m a person too and I deserve to have Santa come to my house too. He does, every year.
Q: Forgive me for saying so, but this conversation is a bit nutty now, Santa.
A: You still believe in me, don’t you Archie?
Q: Sure, I see you sitting there in front of me. I just don’t believe what I am hearing.
A: That’s ok. I understand how you feel. I felt the same way when the Cubs didn’t make it to the world series.
Q: Final question, this one from Sean Hannity of Fox News: Santa, Are you liberal or conservative?
A: Let’s just say I’m concerned.
Q: Oh c’mon, Santa. You must have some political leanings. Most famous people do.
A: I do. But I think as a famous person I have a responsibility to mind my own business and not to use my celebrity to change people. I am willing to discuss any issue but I don’t want to go on the record as saying “this person is bad” or “that person is wrong”. I’ll take it one issue at a time and tell folks what I know and feel. But I don’t believe in broad labels being slapped on folks. I am what I am.
Q: Will Christmas 2003 be a happy one?
A: It will be for many people. But it can be for everyone if we make a concerted effort to make it a merry Christmas for everyone. Get out and help someone, and your Christmas will be merrier.
Q: Should I leave out low fat cookies for you on Christmas eve?
A: No, Archie. Make cookies for your family however you like them. I’m happy with whatever you guys are having.