Every October Santa sits down to be interviewed by a media personality. This has been his tradition almost as long as there has been a modern media. This year, Santa sat down with legendary West Virginia newsman Rusty Belz of radio station WVIP. This year Santa talks about retirement, Christmas in tough times, what he takes on the sleigh and using a whip.
Rusty Belz: Welcome to WVIP and the first ever live interview with Santa Claus!
Santa Claus: Uh, Rusty? This isn’t the first live interview I’ve ever done.
Rusty Belz: No, but it is the first one we’ve ever done! Welcome to the flame thrower of the majestic peaks of West Virginia, Santa. Welcome to WVIP!
Santa Claus: Flame thrower? You’re a five watt station, Rusty.
Rusty Belz: Thanks for noticing Santa. I’ll have you know that folks out by the state line pick us up all the time and can probably hear us right now.
Santa Claus: No offense, Rusty. But I think I can see the state line from here.
Rusty Belz: On a clear day, maybe. Look, Santa, this is a big deal to us. We don’t often get someone of your caliber here in our studios.
Santa Claus: Thank you, Rusty. I appreciate it. I didn’t know we were in a studio. Do you always broadcast here…from your kitchen?
Rusty Belz: No. Sometimes I use the living room too. And, occasionally, we go on remote.
Santa Claus: You mean out in your truck?
Rusty Belz: Well, yes. Don’t you have a radio in your vehicle, Santa?
Santa Claus: Come to think of it, yes, I do! You’re right, Rusty. Very good. Not much gets past a legendary news guy like you. How long have you been doing this now?
Rusty Belz: 65 years, Santa. Never missed a broadcast.
Santa Claus: Outstanding, Rusty. Congratulations! Good job! Any plans on retiring?
Rusty Belz: No, no. We haven’t even talked about it. Actually, that was a question I had for you. When will you retire?
Santa Claus: Oh, goodness. Heavens no retirement for me. Retirement is just not in my plans. I don’t believe in it. I’m not even sure what that word means.
Rusty Belz: I know exactly how you feel, Santa. People ask me about retirement and I say “What’s that?”
Santa Claus: [laughs] I mean no disrepect to retired folks. For those who can do it, I admire them. I just don’t think it is for me.
Rusty Belz: I totally agree, Santa. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I retired.
Santa Claus: Well, now wait a minute. I know a man like you has many interests beyond your work. Retired people fascinate me, you know. I love them. They teach me so much. I met a man from Wyoming who retired from his job working as a plumber. He did that for a lot of years. Once he retired he got not only a lot of time with his family but he took up his love of painting. He’s very, very good at it. He recently sold his first painting for a good sum of money, which he put into an account for his grandson. Retired folks do a lot of good, you know.
Rusty Belz: That’s a great story, Santa. Do a lot of retired people believe in you?
Santa Claus: Oh, yes. A good many of them do. They still hang their stockings and many still write me letters.
Rusty Belz: That is surprising to me, Santa. I didn’t think many adults believe in you anymore.
Santa Claus: Well, not all do. But many do. Santa Claus, I guess, is a hard habit to break! [laughs] I think believing in Santa is essential to enjoying a Merry Christmas.
Rusty Belz: Oh, I think there might be some people out there who would disagree with that statement, Santa.
Santa Claus: Of course there are. There will be those who say they can have a Merry Christmas with a bottle of warm grog and television remote. But they can’t know what they’re missing when they don’t DO Christmas as it should be done.
Rusty Belz: Do you mean to say that people who don’t believe in Santa can’t have a Merry Christmas because they don’t know what a Merry Christmas is?
Santa Claus: Not quite. I mean to say that Santa Claus isn’t Christmas. Giving is Christmas. That’s what it is all about. And some people who don’t believe in me DO believe in giving of themselves at Christmas. They get it. They don’t need to believe in me, if that’s what they do. But for the many who just celebrate Christmas like it is a glorified Super Bowl party, well, those are the ones we need to reach.
Rusty Belz: Santa, given the state of the world right now, do you think that message is getting out?
Santa Claus: Not as good as it should, Rusty. We have much work to do. Things are certainly in a sad state of affairs these days and many people are unhappy.
Rusty Belz: Does that mean there won’t be a Merry Christmas in 2010?
Santa Claus: Oh, heavens no. We’re going to have a great Christmas. The world has been through tough times before and some of the most memorable times come when folks are down. Tough times make people really think. They have to get creative. They have to dig deep, and I don’t mean in their wallets. They have to dig deep into their hearts. And this year, I suspect a lot of deeper digging in the heart will happen. I can feel it. This is going to be an outstanding Christmas.
Rusty Belz: What do you say to those kids in tough situations during a time like this? A lot of kids have parents out of work. Some kids are living in different homes. Some kids will have a lot less this year, Santa.
Santa Claus: Yes, I think you’re right. Some kids are having a tougher go this year, that’s for sure. I see it in the letters they write. But kids are pure. They get what Christmas is all about. You should see it! So many don’t write me for stuff they want. They write for things they want for their parents. It is so sweet. Such good kids there are in the world!
Rusty Belz: But what if you can’t bring those things for their parents? What if there is an empty stocking this year?
Santa Claus: Well, it happens. But an empty stocking isn’t my concern. I am more concerned with an empty heart. And like I said, most kids get that. Most kids who know the tough times their folks are going through ask me to help pay a utility bill or put a little more food in the cupboards. They know that if they are safe and warm in their homes it won’t matter if there isn’t a shiny new video game or something like that under the tree.
Rusty Belz: Don’t you worry some kids might become bitter if that is the kind of Christmas they are used to?
Santa Claus: Oh no, not at all. Kids get Christmas. They know it isn’t about the stuff. Santa won’t forget them, just as their parents won’t forget them. We’re just in a different time, a different season. I think kids just need to think about what makes them most happy. And I think the emphasis should be on what REALLY makes them most happy. When they think real hard, they won’t miss the Christmas gifts from one Christmas to the next. Did you know, we did a survey and fewer than 23% of kids can even remember what they got last year from Santa? They really makes me happy.
Rusty Belz: Huh? What? It doesn’t upset you that kids forget what they got for Christmas? That doesn’t make you angry or sad or hurt?
Santa Claus: Goodness, no. What they get for Christmas isn’t important. It isn’t for me and it shouldn’t be for them. What is important is that Christmas is coming and it is good and it is fun and it means love and togetherness. You don’t need big presents to enjoy Christmas.
Rusty Belz: Do times like these upset you Santa?
Santa Claus: Oh, a little bit. I hate to see some people hurting or hard on each other. That happens during times like these a little. But most folks understand it right. There is a lot of good in the world and bad times only shows me more of that. I am very proud of most people in the world.
Rusty Belz: Santa, you left the North Pole in August and didn’t tell anyone where you were going. What’s up with that?
Santa Claus: Oh, I’m just working on a little project. It is no big deal.
Rusty Belz: But there are toys to make, reindeer to train, a flight to plan. Will all that get done in time for Christmas?
Santa Claus: Sure. No problem. I have lots of help and they are VERY good at what they do.
Rusty Belz: Can’t you give us a little hint?
Santa Claus: Nope.
Rusty Belz: You and Mrs. Claus didn’t have a spat did you?
Santa Claus: Oh goodness no. No, no. There’s nothing like that going on.
Rusty Belz: Does she know what you’re doing?
Santa Claus: No.
Rusty Belz: Won’t she get suspicious with you gone away from home for so long?
Santa Claus: Why would she?
Rusty Belz: Why wouldn’t she? Wouldn’t any spouse be concerned?
Santa Claus: I don’t know what there is to worry about. I can’t walk two feet without someone recognizing me. If I got into any trouble it would be all over the news. Besides, Mrs. Claus and I just aren’t like that. She trusts me.
Rusty Belz: How often do you talk to her when you are away like this?
Santa Claus: Every day, sometimes several times a day.
Rusty Belz: Oh, I see.
Santa Claus: I talk to the elves at the North Pole too everyday. I don’t know why so many are concerned that I’m not there right now. This has happened before. But the mail we have been receiving has been terrific. So many worried folks and there just isn’t anything to worry about.
Rusty Belz: I think it is a sign of the times, Santa. People want to know that in uncertain times you’re going to be there. It means comfort to them.
Santa Claus: I see what you’re saying, Rusty. You’re probably right.
Rusty Belz: Do you know how important you are to people?
Santa Claus: Well it is a funny thing. I’m just a regular guy. I work and I love what I do. I don’t even think about it. Now, when I get out and about and people swarm me or want to sit on my lap I get a good idea that Santa is pretty important. But I keep telling myself. It is not ME. It is the figure of Santa Claus, the idea of Santa they love. I have to work hard to respect that and to act well my part and not get a big head.
Rusty Belz: That does bring up a good question, Santa. It seems the image of Santa, more than ever, is taking a beating. There is a new movie coming out of Finland that depicts you as a serial killer of children. And another one out of Europe also shows Santa as a murderer. Recently you were lampooned on Saturday Night Live and many shows are coming out this season that do not show Santa in a good light.
Santa Claus: Yes, it is terrible.
Rusty Belz: What can you do about, Santa?
Santa Claus: I don’t have time to do anything about it. I am too busy being Santa. And I think that is the best way to handle it. At least for me. Now, guys like you can help things out. The media is just as guilty as the movie people and the television people for using the image of Santa in a dangerous way. You can tell the true story of Santa Claus.
Rusty Belz: I’m not your worry, Santa. I’m just a five watt station. In fact, I doubt if more than 20 people will even hear this interview.
Santa Claus: All anyone needs to do is to tell ONE person the real story of Santa Claus.
Rusty Belz: Just one?
Santa Claus: Yes, just one. A century ago it used to be a very wide spread Christmas tradition to read the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Now that poem doesn’t tell the whole story of the real Santa Claus. But, it tells enough. Even if we just reintroduced it as a widespread tradition — and many people still do this, you know — then it won’t matter how many bad movies or terrible commercials they make showing Santa in the wrong light. People will know.
Rusty Belz: You are very trusting of people, aren’t you Santa?
Santa Claus: I suppose so. I just think there is good in every person. Even people we think of as bad really aren’t bad. They are just a little mixed up sometimes.
Rusty Belz: Do you get angry with bad people you see in the media?
Santa Claus: Frustrated a little, maybe. But anger isn’t an emotion that works well for me or anyone else.
Rusty Belz: Elf Ernest gave me some questions that were sent in by kids. Would you answer a few of those, Santa?
Santa Claus: Gladly.
Rusty Belz: Monica Myers of Ft. Myers, Florida writes to ask why Mrs. Claus won’t tell us her first name. One site on the Internet says it is Melissa. Another says it is Jessica. Another says it is Crystal. Will you settle the question, once and for all.
Santa Claus: No.
Rusty Belz: No? That’s it? Just no? No explanation?
Santa Claus: I’ve explained it a million times and Monica knows the answer. I call Mrs. Claus Mrs. Claus out of respect. She doesn’t want the world to know her first name and she never has. She has asked me not to tell anyone and Santa always keeps his secrets and his promises.
Rusty Belz: Ok, Jeff Henley of Perth, Australia says hello and he wants to know just how big Santa’s sack is?
Santa Claus: Oh, it is very big. Sometmies it is bigger than the sleigh.
Rusty Belz: How do you haul that thing around, Santa? Do you take your sack with you into every house?
Santa Claus: No. The reindeer, of course, do all the work. I just land the sleigh and take things inside, kind of like moving the groceries in from the car. Sometimes I move things from the big sack into a little bag for a family with several people in it.
Rusty Belz: That kind of leads to our next question, from Paulie Knox of Rhodes City, Tennessee. He wants to know what Santa has on the sleigh besides cookies, hot cocoa and his big Santa’s sack?
Santa Claus: Hey, that’s a great question. Paulie is really good at great questions. Last year Paulie made a video for me and put it on the television by the tree in his house. He had a plate of cookies there with a big note telling me to play the video, so I did. Paulie asked me a bunch of questions by video and wanted me to answer him by video too. I didn’t have time to do that but I did leave a note in his stocking with some answers just for him. This question doesn’t suprise me at all, that Paulie is one sharp cookie. I take a great many things with me on the sleigh. I take my pocket knife. A flashlight. A small tool bag. I take some extra reindeer snacks. I have a radio, a cell phone, a laptop computer with a web cam, some beef jerky, a couple of cans of soup, some matches, my entire collection of Bing Crosby Christmas music, a blanket, four or five extra oranges, some gum, my camera, extra tape and scissors, a broom, a snow shovel, an emergency jet pack, some batteries, a whip, two or three extra gallons of water, bug spray, my toothbrush and toothpaste, sunglasses, toothpicks, my wallet and a notepad and extra pens.
Rusty Belz: That’s it?
Santa Claus: And a partridge in a pear tree [laughs}.
Rusty Belz: A whip? Why do you take a whip Santa?
Santa Claus: To help steer the reindeer?
Rusty Belz: You whip them?
Santa Claus: Oh, goodness no. I would never do that.
Rusty Belz: What do you do with a whip then?
Santa Claus: I use a whip to send signals. When traveling at a high rate of speed the reindeer cannot hear my voice. So I crack the whip up by the tops of their heads, off to one side or the other, to let them know which direction to pull.
Rusty Belz: Doesn’t that scare them?
Santa Claus: Not at all. We have been doing it this way for centuries now. They are quite used to it.
Rusty Belz: Have you ever accidently put the whip on them?
Santa Claus: Never. I practice every day with my whip. You have to. I could pick a snowflake off of Donner’s antlers at 50 yards and he would never know it.
Rusty Belz: Is that hard to do?
Santa Claus: Yes, it is very hard and kids should never, ever play with a whip. It takes a lot of training to use one and they can be very dangerous.
Rusty Belz: Is flying the sleigh hard for you? It it hard for the reindeer?
Santa Claus: We have to practice. Everything works like a symphony orchestra. Everyone has a part to play and if everyone has practiced very hard. It is a beautiful thing.
Rusty Belz: How much do you have to train?
Santa Claus: We train every day. All year long. We work together, me and the reindeer.
Rusty Belz: But, Santa. You’re not at the North Pole right now. How can you work with the reindeer every day?
Santa Claus: They’re here with me.
Rusty Belz: They are? Where?
Santa Claus: Up on your roof, Rusty.
Rusty Belz: Seriously, I want to see!
Santa Claus: Go ahead and try.
Rusty Belz: What do you mean, try?
Santa Claus: Some people can’t see them.
Rusty Belz: What?
Santa Claus: They just aren’t visible to everyone.
Rusty Belz: Why not? Are they magic reindeer? I mean, only Santa’s reindeer are known to fly. No other reindeer in the world fly.
Santa Claus: No, they aren’t magic reindeer and, I hate to break this to you, but every reindeer from anywhere in the world could fly if he or she wanted to.
Rusty Belz: They don’t even have wings, Santa. How can a reindeer fly? And why can’t some see your reindeer?
Santa Claus: You don’t need wings to fly, Rusty. Lots of animals without wings fly. Fish fly. Squirrels fly. Even monkeys fly.
Rusty Belz: In the movies, maybe.
Santa Claus: No, for real. I’ve seen them. I love the animal world. They are a wonder. I’m always learning new things about them.
Rusty Belz: I just went out to the yard and looked up on the roof. I didn’t see any reindeer, Santa.
Santa Claus: You didn’t look close enough.
Rusty Belz: My house is really small, Santa. I looked front and back, no reindeer. Why can’t I see them?
Santa Claus: [laughs] It’s not you, Rusty. It’s the reindeer. They are terribly shy. They are nervous creatures, often afraid of people. And, I suppose, they just might be afraid of the media. They definitely don’t like cameras.
Rusty Belz: Really, Santa?
Santa Claus: Yep. I can’t even shoot pictures of them myself. It is in my contract.
Rusty Belz: You have a contract with the reindeer?
Santa Claus: Yes, and with the elves too.
Rusty Belz: Wait, wait, wait. All of these years we thought the elves and the reindeer worked for you. We thought the elves were the ones with the contract.
Santa Claus: A contract is between two or more people. So we all have contracts. My contract with the reindeer says I can’t take pictures. So, no sleigh cam, no posing for reindeer pictures, no ESPN at the reindeer games– nothing. They are very, very shy.
Rusty Belz: Wow, Santa. These are amazing bits of news. I didn’t think we would learn anything new today about the world of Santa Claus.
Santa Claus: Well, the world just assumes it knows Santa Claus. And for the most part, the world gets it wrong.
Rusty Belz: So why don’t you teach us, Santa? Why not write a book? Why not have more interviews like this? Why not go on world-wide television and tell everything?
Santa Claus: Because those who make books and do interviews and run television all do it for the money. And I want nothing to do with that. Besides, that’s not my job.
Rusty Belz: But you could get everyone to believe in you that way!
Santa Claus: Sorry, Rusty. But I don’t believe that. So many unreal things happen on television.
Rusty Belz: You mean like the Cubs not making it to the World Series?
Santa Claus: Well, sure! That is supsicious, don’t you think? Television has been around more than 50 years now and the Cubs have never been to the World Series in that time.
Rusty Belz: Well, Santa, they got to win before they get to the World Series, you know.
Santa Claus: I know how it works. But don’t you think that is all a bit odd? How long could it possibly take? But it is like it is written in a script. They lose every year.
Rusty Belz: You sound like you’re getting frustrated Santa. Maybe even a lttle mad.
Santa Claus: No, not mad. Just suspicious, that’s all. They’re all good boys and I think one of these days they should go to the series. But it never happens. It is like they are cursed or something.
Rusty Belz: Well, Santa, they say they are cursed, you know.
Santa Claus: I don’t know about that. Those guys are too nice to be cursed. In fact, some of those players leave and go to other teams and then go to the World Series. But nobody in a Cubs uniform gets to go to the series. It’s just wrong.
Rusty Belz: Can’t you do anything about it?
Santa Claus: Evidently not! I’m just Santa.
Rusty Belz: Are there a lot of things like that you can’t do, Santa?
Santa Claus: Yes. There are a great many things Santa can’t affect.
Rusty Belz: Like what?
Santa Claus: The weather. The stock market. Bad diseases. Natural disasters. Accidents. Cauliflower. And the Chicago cubs. Lots of terrible things.
Rusty Belz: The Cubs not going to the World Series is a terrible thing?
Santa Claus: Yes, heartbreaking!
Rusty Belz: Wow, Santa. You’re quite the fan.
Santa Claus: I suppose so. Well, the television people won’t take care of them but Santa always will.
Rusty Belz: How do you deal with heartbreak with people? I mean, the Cubs are sad but not heartbreaking like a parent losing a child or a child losing a beloved pet. How do you help those people?
Santa Claus: You’re right, Rusty. The Cubs are nothing like that. And there are real situations out there that are genuinely sad and tragic. I know a little girl in a hospital in Kansas City. She is very sick and she probably won’t live until Christmas. Her family is in a lot of pain but she is a brave, brave kid. I was with her just the other day and she was just so nice and sweet. That is a situation I can do nothing about. But, I could be there with her for a while. I could make her smile and share a good time. And with her Mommy and her Daddy, well, I could cry with them. Such a dear family. They need love and lots of it. And love is easy to do.
Rusty Belz: It it hard to be Santa in those situations?
Santa Claus: No. It is hard to be human in those situations. But it is part of life. And it all makes us stronger. I learn so much from those kids I visit who are facing challenges like that. Their eyes see the world as a better place than the rest of us do. And it is because they understand more of what is really important. The spirit of Christmas just shines when you meet someone like that. I was visiting the other day with a lady named Helga, aged 93 years. She lives in a nursing home and isn’t doing well. She knows her life is about over. But there are things she wanted to get done before she goes and she told someone there that she wanted to see Santa before she died and I got a phone call. So I visited with her and had the most delightful conversation. She’s believed in me since she was a little girl and she just wanted to thank me for something I did back in the 1920s for her family. I forgot all about it, those many Christmases ago, but she remembered and she recalled that she never sent me that thank you letter she wrote. So she wanted to see me. What a great, great lady. A truly grateful heart and a wonderful example.
Rusty Belz: Did she die?
Santa Claus: No, she lives. Her body died, but I tell you that she lives. I hear her voice echoing in my ears and I feel her spirit in my heart. I know she is alive, just as all those kids I see each year in hospitals and sick beds who face diseases. I know they live on, too. We need to spend more time with these people. Oh, by all means, we should be contributing money to fight disease and continue to work to find cures but more importantly for people who are in such situations we really need to visit them and feed ourselves. They do so much for US.
Rusty Belz: Santa are you discouraged by the lack of faith so prevalent in the world?
Santa Claus: Well, it comes and it goes, Rusty. This old world has long struggled with faith and the many trials we face now are not new. Some folks forget God for a while but return home to Him as they learn some of the hard lessons of life. We go out of the world the way we come in, as babies. And once we realize that humility we reconcile ourselves to our Maker. I’ve seen it over and over and over.
Rusty Belz: You once had a reputation as a priest. Do you still hold such a Church position?
Santa Claus: I am very much a Church-goer. My role is a little different now than it was then, of course. But I still have a calling I feel strongly about.
Rusty Belz: Would the world accept a religious Santa?
Santa Claus: They better.
Rusty Belz: Do you have a hard time with those intolerant of religion?
Santa Claus: Only with those who condemn others of differing beliefs. I think we’re all on our own spiritual paths and we should never be critical of where someone else is. A non-believer in God has as much depth and thought and love as a believer. I don’t believe there is room in this world for disrespect of anyone’s beliefs.
Rusty Belz: What about the War on Christmas, Santa? Do you believe there is a war on Christmas?
Santa Claus: No.
Rusty Belz: But what about the fights over Christmas lights? What about nativity scenes in public places? What about singing Christmas carols in schools?
Santa Claus: I think those are all issues about lights, public places and schools. I don’t think they really have a thing to do with Christmas itself. We learned through real wars of the past that they can’t keep Christmas from coming. For those who really believe, it comes and nothing can take it away. These are small bickering kinds of things that really have nothing to do with Christmas itself.
Rusty Belz: Some say belief in Santa isn’t good for kids. What do you say about that?
Santa Claus: I say “bah-humbug!” to that. If a kid can like Superman or Batman or Super Mario or a sports figure they can like Santa Claus.
Rusty Belz: Do you find fewer kids believing in you?
Santa Claus: No. I get more questions now than I ever have before. But questions don’t translate into a lack of belief.
Rusty Belz: Are you worried about kids not believing in you?
Santa Claus: Not at all. I worry about adults not believing in me.
Rusty Belz: What do you do about adults?
Santa Claus: I just keep being Santa. There is nothing more I can do.
Rusty Belz: Santa will this be a Merry Christmas?
Santa Claus: Absolutely. We can take joy in each other this year and in every year. It is a blessed life for many and that is worthy of celebration. Merry Christmas!