Being Santa: The Men Behind The Big Man

A Scripted Freelance Writer Writing Sample

December is a busy month for everyone: holiday parties, gift buying and cookie baking seem to dominate every spare minute from Thanksgiving until midnight on the 24th. No one, however, has a busier schedule than the big man in red himself. A 2011 article in The Atlantic calculated there are over 500 million Christian children under the age of 14 in the world. This means there are more than half a billion kids who have to be deemed either naughty or nice. Although traditionally Santa might have left one small present for each child, capitalism seems to have rubbed off on Old St. Nick, and youngsters today quite frequently will receive multiple gifts from Mr. Claus. So not only does he have to make sure those pesky elves build approximately a billion toys, but then he and just nine reindeer have one night to deliver them all over the world. It would be unreasonable to think he could do this alone. It was 1991 when Santa Claus first asked Al Daniels for help and he's been asking him ever since. According to Mr. Daniels, who for many years was the North Haven Village Building Inspector, every year in December he receives a "very official" letter from the North Pole soliciting his assistance. At Santa Claus's personal request, Mr. Daniels puts on his red suit and boots and spreads the holiday cheer. "He's a great role model," Mr. Daniels said. "You just have to change your attitude and be Santa Claus," he added. Mr. Daniels inherited his silk-lined suit from his father-in-law, William Elliston, who used to spend Christmas day in Southampton Hospital, giving out gifts and playing Santa Claus for ailing children. Since then, Mr. Daniels has gone to parties, schools, and even door-to-door in North Haven with his thoroughly coiffed wig and beard and his shiny black boots. "I do it because I love doing it," Mr. Daniels said. Sag Harbor's Robbie Vorhaus bought his Santa suit back in 1999. "I saw this world class Santa costume and it was gorgeous, it was authentic, it was just beautiful, it was too much money and I just said I have no use for this," Mr. Vorhaus said. "So I bought it." The first time he put on the suit in public was at an elementary school in Spanish Harlem. "I have never been so fulfilled in my life," he said. "I went to every single class, we distributed gifts, we gave donations to the school. It was just so overwhelmingly rewarding to have these kids so in awe, so amazed so in wonder," he said. But while Santa spends all year fulfilling 500 million wish lists out of the pure goodness of his heart, Mr. Vorhaus admitted his motives are slightly less altruistic. "It's not just that I'm doing it for other people. I am selfishly doing it for me," he said. "Because I get more love, unfiltered pure authentic love, and there is no other word to describe it. If you could find a love meter, mine would explode from the reaction that I get from people who want to believe and want to feel in that moment that the essence of Santa, that goodness, that soul exists." Tom Fox has been Mattituck's Santa for over 25 years. And while bearded job-seekers can apparently earn up to $200 an hour for a stint as Santa, neither Mr. Fox nor our other two Father Christmases, have ever accepted so much as a dime for their Santa services. He does it, "you know, to make the kids happy," he said. "Oh, he just loves it," said his wife Helen, who takes on the role of Santa's secretary during the holiday season. A secretary or assistant is vital, said Mr. Fox, who spends nearly every weekend from November 29 through to Christmas Eve in the red suit his wife and sister-and-law made for him several years ago. "But he's known as Santa year-round here in Mattituck," Mrs. Fox said. Mr. Vorhaus, an author and advisor to the rich and famous, is known as Santa for only a few short weeks in December. "It's transformative," Mr. Vorhaus said. "I literally lose my identity as a middle-aged white guy and I become this big elf from the North Pole and every body knows I'm not really Santa and yet everybody – from Black to Mexican, from Bonackers to the elite, everyone wants to hug me, everyone wants to say hello," he said. Mr. Daniels agreed and added that parents are just as excited as their children when Santa knocks on the door. Now it would be dishonest reporting not to acknowledge or refer to the many rumors that claim Santa is a phony or a fake. Children for years have come home sobbing after that one kid in the playground told them Santa doesn't exist. And Santa Claus helpers everywhere are asked by disbelieving children to prove their authenticity. Mr. Vorhaus said the conversation usually goes the same way: "The question they always ask is 'Santa, are you real?' and I'll say, 'well, can't you see me?'" Mr. Fox uses another tried and tested method to prove himself, he said. "I have them pull on my beard," he said. "That's how I get rid of the phonies." These three Santas, all of whom are accomplished, grown men with children of their own, are adamant that they still believe in Kris Kringle. "It's part of growing up," Mr. Daniels said. "If you didn't believe in Santa Claus, you missed out on something." "I think it's important that we all believe in something greater than ourselves, I think it's important to believe in goodness," Mr. Vorhaus said. "What Santa does, it is an inexplicable magic," he added, "it's a switch, that even for the most callous and bitter, it touches that child in us."

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