Santa: ‘Selma is as pretty as a picture in March’

Published 4:14 pm Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Editor’s note: STJ reporter Caleb R. Johnson flew to the North Pole Wednesday to catch Santa before the big trip that evening. No photos were allowed

A polished, black leather boot is the first thing to appear in the brick fireplace. It barely slips into sight amidst a cloud of ash and dust. The left foot touches the floor, then the right. A rear-end as wide as a fire truck backs out into the room.

A short man stands up straight and turns around. His red, felt hat with white, fur trim sits slightly crooked on his head. He reveals a set of sparkling, white teeth and extends a hand as big as a bear claw.

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“Hello there, I’m Nicholas,” the chubby man said. “But you can call me Santa.”

I apologize for the entrance. I wanted to make sure all the kinks are worked out before the big night.”

“The big night” is Christmas Eve. The night when Santa and his eight reindeer fly around the world delivering presents.

Santa Claus just might be the busiest person in the world right now.

He sits in an oversized, velvet chair eating a fruitcake bigger than a brick. Pieces of raisins and almonds cling to his chest-length, snow-white beard. Tiny people dressed in red and green buzz in and out of the room. They bring pieces of paper for Santa to sign and toys for him to inspect.

Santa reads each sheet of paper and signs it with the precision of a surgeon, and inspects each toy with the eye of a hawk.

“Everything has to be just right,” he said. “There’s no room for error when the joy of children is on the line.”

Christmas is a year-round job, after all. Preparations begin in January. There are letters to read, lists to make, reindeers to feed and toys to build. Not to mention general upkeep of the enormous, cedar cabin, and the surrounding 50 million acres at the North Pole.

“A lot of people don’t realize,” Santa said. “I’m here working 51 weeks out of the year.”

Mrs. Claus and I do take a vacation during March. Last year, we went to Tahiti.”

It is difficult to imagine Santa lying shirtless on the sand. His round belly greased up with a gallon of Hawaiian Tropic.

When he returns from his vacation, he is all business. Santa begins a rough draft of his naughty and nice list.

He said the list could change at any moment. Thanks to technological advances, Santa can receive updates on children while he is flying high in the night sky on Christmas Eve.

“I still don’t know exactly how to work this thing, but it has made the job a little easier,” he said of his iPhone.

Santa leans forward in his chair when Selma comes up in conversation. It looks like the gold buttons on his coat might pop right off. He said Selma is one of his favorite places to visit.

“Mmm. The way the city lights reflect on the Alabama River is absolutely beautiful,” he said. “And I just love the children who live there.”

Santa said the threat of rain in Selma on Christmas Eve did not bother him. His sleigh is equipped to handle any conditions.

“The elves installed a hard-shell top on the sleigh. All I have to do is press a button, and poof! I’m dry as can be.”

It is getting late at the North Pole, not that there is much of a difference between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. The elves do not notice as they speed around the compound. They move so swift and light that they do not even sink into the snow.

Mrs. Claus walks into the room carrying a steaming plate of chocolate chip cookies. She leans over and places the plate on an oak table. Santa motions her over and kisses her on the cheek.

He picks up a saucer-sized cookie and bites a large chunk. A small, brown crumb sticks to his beard, just below his lower lip.

“She keeps me going,” he says. “People want to know where Christmas magic comes from, it’s her.”

Mrs. Claus blushes, and Santa takes another bite.

“I hope the children in Selma leave lots of cookies,” he said.

“They better start baking now if they want to fill him up,” Mrs. Claus said.

Santa lets out a laugh that rattles the wooden rafters.

“It’ll be good to be back in Selma. I never get to spend enough time there,” Santa said. “Maybe Mrs. Claus and I can vacation there. I hear it’s pretty as a picture in March.”