Santa – The Man Behind the Beard

Santa Claus - Norman Rockwell - Saturday Evening Post - 1922

By Judy Berman

Anticipation and excitement are in the air as children wait for Santa to arrive. Did you ever wonder how St. Nick got into this gig?

It’s deeply personal and heartwarming for two Santa Clauses I’ve met. It’s a way to give back. For one, it was a chance to connect with his child and others.

Santas are everywhere – malls, street corners and on TV. On Christmas Eve, kids might keep their eyes on the skies or on the fireplace, hoping to spot that jolly old elf.

But, this month while in church in Melbourne, Florida, I was startled to see a man with a white beard. He was wearing red coveralls and a crisp white shirt. Right after services, I dashed over to chat with him. Naturally, the kids beat me to him.

Santa - Lily and J. J. - Dec. 14, 2014 at Ascension Catholic

I waited patiently while Lily, 5, and her brother J.J., 7, finished asking Santa about why his beard is curly and what his favorite vegetables were.

Who knew? Santa loves guacamole. Lily said she loved that, too.

After they left, I asked Santa why he does this. He became a Santa in 1983 at the Officers’ Wives Club when he was in the Air Force.

A young lady asked him to deliver a gift to her boyfriend. Then, the following week, that young man asked Santa to deliver a gift to her.

Right after Santa handed her the gift, her boyfriend came in, knelt down and proposed. Santa handed her the rings. Of course, she accepted.

“That was my first time as Santa. I was hooked,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

After a life-saving operation, his interest in being Santa intensified.

For Gerald M. Hoppe, a Santa’s helper I met years ago at Shoppingtown in DeWitt, New York, his interest led him to write a book for his son, Marc, who is disabled.

In “Santa’s First Helper,” (1987) Hoppe said he’s asked year after year by children who are “bewildered and curious” about all the Santas they see.

After all, they ask, shouldn’t Santa be working with his elves at the North Pole to get all the presents ready?

Hoppe “reveals the magical secret behind all of those Santa’s helpers that you see.”

Santa's First Helper - Gerald M. Hoppe

His story involves an elf taking what he believed was Santa’s power so that he could “be the one to make the children happy at Christmastime.” The elf soon regretted his decision, apologized and made amends.

The Santa in Melbourne admits there is a certain power that comes along with the character he embodies.

One time, as he was about to board a flight before Thanksgiving, “a stewardess came up and asked what seat number I had. It was number seven.”

The stewardess apologized, wishing she was able to get him another seat. The problem? His seatmates would be two children who were already acting up.

“After I sat down, I turned to them and said: ‘Do you know who I am?’ ”

They didn’t. I said: “I’m Santa. If you don’t behave, I won’t give you anything for Christmas.”

Well, he chuckled, they became the best of buddies and were good the rest of the flight.

That was the best gift. But, he adds, the real gift of Christmas isn’t under the tree. It’s in your heart and in your faith. For Christians, it’s the celebration of “the birth of Christ.”


Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanza and Happy Holidays.


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music Video: Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 

Main Photo: Santa with Elves, by Norman Rockwell, Saturday Evening Post cover – 1922

Photo: Santa with Lily, 5, and her brother, J.J., 7, at Ascension Catholic Community church, Melbourne, Florida.

Photo: cover of “Santa’s First Helper” by Gerald M. Hoppe (1987)

  1. I love this Santa story and the visuals: I don’t believe I have seen this particular Rockwell painting either. One small detail made me chuckle: Lily and J.J. asking Santa to name his favorite vegetables. Imaginative and wise!

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, your photo of a caring man who definitely seems like Santa Claus and the wonderful addition of reading material, Judy. I enjoy Bruce, “The Boss, Springsteen’s song as one of my all time favorite Christmas songs! Wonderful way to send me into the last week before the big day! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you, Judy and family. Hugs, Robin

    1. Bruce’s Christmas song is one of my favorites, especially his banter with Clarence and the crowd. Both Santas are very sweet men who the children warmed to instantly. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family, Robin. 😉

  3. Hello, Judy! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that wonderful Norman Rockwell painting of a very weary Santa. It’s just the best. And the photograph of Air Force Santa….wow, he really fits the bill, doesn’t he? I’m baking right now and listening to carols. Your post adds to my Christmas spirit. Thank you.

    1. Those little elves had to pitch in as Santa does seem plumb tuckered out. That Saturday Evening Post is from 1922. Barbara, Air Force Santa did look every bit as I imagined him to look. I’ve been eating w-a-y too many cookies and candy. Glad you enjoyed the post. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours. 😉

  4. I kinda figgered out Santa a big fraud when I was 5. Why did he have white adhesive bandage tape to keep his beard and mustache in place ? Smelled a hint of whiskey too.

    1. Carl, my brother also was on to the story about that same age. I hung on for a little longer. I still believe. 😉 About that whiff of alcohol, being a mall Santa is not for the weak. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  5. Great tales for the spirit of Christmas, Judy, told in your special style. What present to come sliding down the WordPress chimney this this weekend! Merry Christmas to you, Dave and the family, my friend.

  6. I love to see all the different sides of Santa. You paint a colourful and festive picture, Judy , thank you for that and a wish you a very Merry Christmas from here in the U.K .

    1. Santa must have many sides so that he can slip by those who are staying up and watching for him. Thank you for your comments. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours, Cherry. 😉

    1. Kath … If I don’t see him at mass after Christmas, my suspicion that he is the REAL Santa will be confirmed. 😉 Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Thank you for the good wishes. Right back at ya’.

  7. Thank you for that lovely, heartwarming holiday story Judy! 🙂 Hope you had a wonderful Christmas. All best wishes to you and your family!

  8. Hi Judy, I am the author of “Santa’s First Helper”. Jerry Hoppe, the author, just called me to tell me about your blog. He is very glad to have been remembered after all these years (27) . Thanks to you for posting a picture of the cover as well. Hope the new year brings peace and health.


    1. Anne Hickman … I’m delighted to hear from you. I must have interviewed Jerry Hoppe when I worked for WHEN-AM radio in Syracuse, New York. I still treasure the book he autographed for me 27 years ago on 12-24-87. It hardly seems that that much time has flown by. I hope that you are both doing well. Wishing you all the best in 2015.

  9. I read this post, and my heart grew three sizes. My cardiologist says I’ll need an operation, but hey, it’s worth it… : )

    Wonderful Santa stories, Judy, thanks. It takes a special guy to fill the role– kinda like Clayton Moore always living the part as The Lone Ranger. Some of those December Nicholases really are saints. I sure hope the real Nick was good to you after giving him such great PR!! : )

    1. Mark … There’s no way you’re Grinch-like material. You already have a very big heart.

      Both Santas were wonderful and I could tell that the kids really adored them. I have an inside track with the real Santa. So, yes, we had an excellent Christmas with our family. I hope that you and your lovely wife also had a terrific Christmas and a Happy New Year. 😉

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